The idiom, "Where there's smoke, there's fire" speaks to how there's typically some truthful basis to situations that generate a ton of attention. While Sixers president Daryl Morey may not be the sole party to blame for the recent feud with James Harden, the bottom line is that he's been unable to manage prima donna superstars in a league littered with them. But neither Harden nor Jimmy Butler -- nor Philadelphia favorite Ben Simmons, for that matter -- is devoid of blame when it comes to their falling out with the franchise.
It’s no secret professional sports feature tough-to-manage personalities, and athletes who feel everything out of their backend smells like a chocolate bar. Those who work in the front office have to be patient, reasonable, and most importantly, unemotional when managing relationships with players that help teams win. Only Morey has long been a loudmouth who enjoys showing his true colors, while making it clear he won't be pushed around.
Morey's a human being -- he has opinions on any topic. But when it comes to expressing how he feels in his capacity as a front office member, pushing the mute button would be the best option. After all, general managers need high-end talent to have success and show they're good at building a winning team. Without studs they often don't have jobs, or are unable to keep them for long.
On the other hand, Harden's struggles to fit in everywhere he's played-- from Oklahoma City to Houston, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia -- aren't anything new. While he's been one of the league's more prolific scorers of the past decade, his narcissistic inability to get along with teammates and front office members has been well documented. The Beard has always been a me-first kind of guy, whether it's hogging the ball or partying between playoff series in Las Vegas.
In an era of sports media that's defined by hot takes and blaming one side or the other, those analyzing the situation have been quick to stand on the side of either Harden or Morey. But, in reality, both guys are equally at fault for this drama and tension. Harden decided that pulling back the throttle -- in hopes of going on another run -- wasn't an option, even as he approaches the later stages of his career.
"Daryl Morey is a liar, and I will never be part of an organization he's a part of," Harden recently said at an event in China. In typical fashion, Harden repeated his comments for good measure, in case anyone in the back of the room was scrolling through Twitter feeds instead of listening to him speak. Naturally, the event had nothing to do with the upcoming NBA season, or the Sixers.
At 34 years old, the Sixers likely represent Harden's best chance at winning a championship. So why not play nice and keep your thoughts to yourself for a few more years? That's not his M.O., thus a power struggle with management was inevitable the minute he had a platform to voice his thoughts. The Sixers do need to add talent to their roster, having done little to make improvements following their East semifinals loss to the rival Celtics. But there's still a higher ceiling, given his pairing with MVP Joel Embiid and rising star Tyrese Maxey.
Once the seesaw of blame is balanced, Harden and Morey will be sitting even with one another. Harden's responsible for trying to be the center of attention and stirring the pot, while blatantly disregarding teammates. Morey's inability to cater to yet another superstar -- while failing to do everything in his power to keep a notoriously disgruntled diva satisfied -- needs to be pointed out.
Yes, both sides have reasons for the behavior, and differences do exist. But winning and ignoring outside noise must be the top priority. They can't open the door for more issues that could completely dismantle everything they've worked so hard to construct. Teams that win big in the NBA commonly come without distractions. Take a look at the Nuggets, which came together to win an NBA title without any drama. Look at the East's eighth-seeded Heat, which went on a storybook run before losing to Denver. Both squads had zero ego.
While those teams do everything in their power to create strong cultures built around a selfless mentality, the super-squads will always get in their own way, just as much as another team can. So, when it's all said and done, Morey and Harden could regret how they've mismanaged their careers and relationships with one another. But when reflecting on what they could've done differently, they'll find solace in recalling that there was enough force and momentum to push the pendulum in either direction.
Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.