Robert Johnson famously took his guitar to a crossroads near Dockery Plantation at midnight and met a man dressed in black. The man tuned his guitar, handed it back to him, and Johnson received complete mastery over the instrument. The price for such a gift, as the legend goes? His soul.
Daryl Morey and the 76ers are at a crossroads. Instead of man in black, Morey is meeting a man with an uncanny ability to score among the best in the NBA, a tendency to disappear in the biggest moments of his life, and a legendary appreciation of strip clubs.
The price for this man? Ben Simmons (and draft picks probably).
Johnson became one of the most influential blues guitarist of all time for the price of his soul. What will the Sixers receive? An open window for the next few seasons to potentially bring a championship to Philadelphia at the cost of a much younger superstar.
So what’s the choice to be made? Sell your soul for a chance at a championship, to make the big splash and reinvent your team until Harden ages out and the long nights at Club Risque finally catch up with him? Or do you resist the temptation and keep your younger, albeit much less gifted, offensive superstar who hasn’t shown a willingness to expand his offensive game and truly become elite, and roll the dice with what you have now?
I go back and forth. Johnson’s fame came after death, dying as a young man of mysterious circumstances, his death certificate not even found until 30 years after his dying day. Would it be the same for the Sixers? A big time move and a big time risk that would thrust the franchise into the social media spotlight. A mercurial superstar who is talking his way out of Houston and likely has a few elite years left in the tank before potentially pulling an Iverson and falling completely off a cliff production-wise?
Simmons is younger, light years better defensively and a better facilitator. Harden is an elite, if not the best, scorer in the entire NBA. Both seem to shrink in big moments.
Morey says the 76ers have no desire to trade Simmons. He’s in their future plans, a big part of what they’re preparing for as they move forward….but temptation is a tricky thing. He knows he could make something work, he’s worked with Harden before, he knows the PRICE he would have to pay. Maybe he could wring a few more drops out of Harden in Philadelphia, play the role of Pat Gillick as a wise and grizzled out-of-town GM brought in to bring a championship to a starved fan base.
The 76ers haven’t played one regular season game under Morey’s watch but this feels like a moment that is going to define his career with the franchise. It’s going to be one of those choices that we’ll look back on in 10 years with extraordinary gratitude or immense disappointment.
So what’s it going to be, Daryl? Will you take the deal?
Go to the crossroads, fall down on your knees, ask the lord above, have mercy now, save poor Morey if you please.