The Philadelphia 76ers are continuing their pursuit of Nets star playmaker James Harden as the focal point of any trade involving their young, embattled star, Ben Simmons.
In the latest out of The City of Brotherly Love, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is in no apparent rush to find a deal for Simmons, who has been away from the team since training camp and remains 10 toes down in his desire to be traded from Philadelphia.
Morey, who used to be the general manager of Harden’s successful Houston Rockets, is angling to make a run at his former superstar this summer, in free agency or a sign and trade, according to a report from The Athletic.
Harden is in the final year of his contract and can become a free agent at the end of this season. He can sign a contract that keeps him in Brooklyn for the next five seasons at $274.7 million, or he can leave Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets for Morey, Joel Embiid and the 76ers, who can offer him a four-year, $200.1 million max contract. (He also has a $47 million player option for next season.)
Harden told reporters in October he was committed to winning a championship in Brooklyn, but declined to sign an extension last summer.
“The contract, the money is going to be there,” he said. “I don’t plan on leaving this organization and the situation we have. My focus is on the season and winning a championship. The contract and all that stuff will play itself out as it should.”
Yet Morey is moving as if he knows something the rest of the world doesn’t. The Sixers have had offers from the Sacramento Kings (De’Aaron Fox) and Indiana Pacers (Domantas Sabonis), but reports suggest Philadelphia will hold out on a deal until this summer.
By then, things could change for several additional parties that could become interested in a trade for Simmons: the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard, the Washington Wizards and Bradley Beal, and the Boston Celtics and Jaylen Brown.
Simmons has been on the trading block all season, but no teams have met 76ers general manager Daryl Morey’s demands yet. Morey recently said that the Sixers have shortened their wishlist in a deal for Simmons and are willing to trade for a “top-40 player who’s a great fit,” but he also called a deal happening “less likely than likely.”
That’s because Embiid has been sensational for Philadelphia this season, yet another year dominating the NBA as the league’s best two-way big man. Despite missing Simmons, and despite their standing as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, Embiid has powered the Sixers, who are just 2.5 games behind the conference’s No. 1 seed.[More Sports] James Harden and Nets teammates want refs to have ‘consistent whistle’ »
“It really is important that the player we add to Joel, if we really want to take our odds from wherever we’re at right now to something materially higher, it has to come back in an impact player,” the Sixers executive said Thursday on 97.5 The Fanatic. “If you trade one of these great players for multiple, it does not move your championship odds enough to make a difference.
“It might take us from where we’re at now to a little bit better, but it’s slightly better. For Joel, we have to make sure we get this right and we move ourselves to a higher tier of ability to win a championship.”
Simmons has not played a game for the 76ers this season and held out of a large part of training camp, only showing up when the team began to fine him for his absence. He was an unserious participant in practice and was eventually sent home for refusing to participate in drills with his teammates. He has yet to return to the roster, citing mental health issues, and remains steadfast in his desire to be traded from the team.
Simmons’ stock took a hit during the second round of the playoffs last season, when he struggled to score and was passive in looking for his shot against Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks. His teammates and head coach used him as the scapegoat for their playoff exit.
After the Sixers lost to the Hawks in Game 7, a reporter asked head coach Doc Rivers whether Simmons can be the starting point guard on a championship team.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Rivers replied.
Morey seems to believe if the answer is no, or if Simmons continues to refuse to return to the team, Harden can be the difference. It remains uncertain — and largely unlikely — that Harden would leave his situation with two other future Hall of Famers in Durant and Irving to play with one star in Embiid, but it appears Morey is going to try to sell him on that dream, anyway.