With the Nets open to a Ben Simmons trade, the Sixers’ pursuit of James Harden becomes reality



Keith Pompey // The Philadelphia Inquirer


So much for the Brooklyn Nets’ refusal to listen to trade overtures for James Harden ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.


The Nets are now open to discussing a deal for disgruntled 76ers point guard Ben Simmons, a league source confirmed. The Athletic first reported the news. The hope is that a deal could be on the horizon, but sources say that both sides are playing possum at the moment.


Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves have wanted to make a deal for Simmons for some time. They’re also open to trading for Tobias Harris along with Simmons, again according to The Athletic. The Timberwolves, however, are unwilling to part with as many draft picks as the Sixers would expect in a deal. As a result, there hasn’t been much traction.


But the news of the day is the possibility that Brooklyn would part ways with Harden for Simmons. The Athletic also reports the Sixers could package Matisse Thybulle, Seth Curry, or Tyrese Maxey to sweeten the deal. However, the Sixers aren’t willing to include Maxey in any trade. The team also views Thybulle as close to untouchable, while Curry is the son-in-law of head coach Doc Rivers.


On Jan. 23, The Inquirer reported the Sixers were all-in on acquiring Harden even if it meant prolonging the Simmons saga. The report addressed Sixers president of basketball operation Daryl Morey’s affinity for Harden. Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin maintains a close relationship with Harden and his close circle as well. Harden also has a tight relationship with Sixers CEO Tad Brown. Brown was the Houston Rockets CEO and Morey served as the Rockets general manager when Harden played for Houston.


There are also reports that Harden is unhappy in Brooklyn and wants to be traded. Sources have said that Harden likes the idea of playing alongside Joel Embiid with the Sixers and thinks he would thrive alongside the big man.


This could be a solid move for both teams.


Morey would get the player he attempted to reunite with last season while offering Simmons and Thybulle in a trade to Houston before the Rockets eventually traded Harden to the Nets.


Meanwhile, Brooklyn would get a multifaceted player in Simmons, who would be able to handle the ball, allowing Kyrie Irving to thrive as shooting guard. Simmons can also guard all five positions and would blend in well with Irving and Kevin Durant.


A three-time All-Star, Simmons also became fully vaccinated during the season. That’s important because an unvaccinated status would make him non-compliant with local rules in New York and hinder his ability to work in the city. As a result, he would only be permitted to play in road games outside of the city like the unvaccinated Irving.


Simmons, however, would need some time to find a rhythm because he has held out the entire season after demanding to be traded.


If the Sixers don’t find a way to part with Simmons and acquire Harden before the deadline, they have two other options.


They could try to clear up substantial cap space to acquire Harden in free agency if he opts out of his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season. They also could opt to get him from the Nets via a sign-and-trade.


The salary cap for next season is at $121 million and the Sixers currently have an active-roster cap hit of $150 million for the 2022-23 campaign.


The Sixers would need to shed around $76 million in order to offer Harden $47 million. That would involve trading Harris, who is scheduled to make $37.6 million next season, and Simmons ($35.4 million), and basically take back very little in expiring contracts and draft picks.


It appears that they will explore every avenue. Harden, the 2018 MVP with Houston, seems like the perfect fit for Embiid. He can get a bucket, finish isolation plays, take opponents off the dribble, and drain step-back three-pointers.


However, he’s averaging 22.5 points and shooting a career-low 33.2% on three-pointers this season. This is his lowest scoring average since averaging 16.8 points per game as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2011-12 season. The 32-year-old, who is an 11-time All-Star, is also coming off a four-point performance in Wednesday’s road loss to the Sacramento Kings and has been sidelined with hamstring tightness.


A league source thinks a change of scenery will enable him to go back to being the player who averaged 29.6 points, shot 36.2% on three-pointers, and won three scoring titles during his nine seasons in Houston.


Time will tell.

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