Inside the tense negotiations that led to a James Harden-Ben Simmons superstar swap

IN THE FINAL minutes of negotiations, Daryl Morey was shouting to Sean Marks: "Stay on the f---ing phone!" Here it was, 1:15 p.m. ET on Thursday, and the Philadelphia 76ers' president of basketball operations had come too far to let this deal die. He implored Marks to stay on the line until they had an agreement on the biggest trade of the year.

"We're going to finish this!" Morey said. He was on the cusp of getting disgruntled star Ben Simmons out of his life and James Harden back into it, the protections on these draft picks were within reach, and Morey wanted it over. For months, everyone had told Morey to settle, cave to the marketplace's mediocre offers and unburden the Sixers of the Simmons saga. To hell with that. Morey wanted Harden, and now it was here.

"We're dropping F-bombs now, Daryl?" Marks said, joking.

Here was Morey, the combustible, disheveled, dealmaking junkie with an admitted habit of cursing under stress. Ten years ago, Morey hung up with another front-office son of the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, and had himself a far different deal for Harden. That changed Morey's career -- and changed Harden's too. Harden became The Beard, the MVP, a lethal, efficient offensive juggernaut with a franchise bent to his every whim. Together, Morey and Harden launched themselves in Houston, reaching the Western Conference finals, supercharging a historic NBA offense and shuttling co-stars in and out at a breakneck rate.

Together they'd gassed the franchise's trade assets on big deals that flamed out -- no fewer than three first-round picks in Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades. Both Morey and Harden eventually bailed -- Morey to Philadelphia, Harden to Brooklyn. Only, it turns out, they're like magnets. Morey stayed obsessed with reuniting -- and stopped at nothing to make it happen.