As rumors involving James Harden potentially leaving Houston continue to swirl, The Athletic’s Shams Charania shed additional light on the situation in his Inside Pass article this morning. First, Harden has reportedly expanded his list of preferred destinations from two to four teams:
Along with the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets star James Harden now also has the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat among his preferred trade destinations, sources with knowledge have told The Athletic.
From the Sixers’ perspective, if they were interested in getting into the James Harden business, an expanding pool of potential suitors is bad for leverage. Additional bidders would mean having to pony up a larger group of assets in order to pry the All-NBA guard away from the Rockets. The growing list is also bad for Philadelphia in that it is entirely comprised of their main competition in the Eastern Conference. It’s surprising Danny Ainge and the Celtics aren’t in the rumor mill, having forever been close to a deal. Regardless, things appear to be shaping up that if the Sixers don’t trade for Harden, it could mean having to go up against him in the playoffs (this is when the Harden detractors chime in that the playoffs is exactly when you want to face him).
Shams specifically addresses Philadelphia later in his piece, both to reaffirm how committed Sixers management is giving the Embiid-Simmons core a fair look with the revamped roster, and to indicate that Ben is the apple of Houston’s eye.
The 76ers want to view their two young All-Stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, under new head coach Doc Rivers — who has raved about both players and has privately made clear he wants the opportunity to have elevated success with both Simmons and Embiid — and centered around president of basketball operations Daryl Morey’s new acquisitions such as veteran shooters Danny Green and Seth Curry and key reserve center Dwight Howard. Rivers has spoken highly about the championship experience Howard and Green will provide after winning a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in October. In theory, however, Houston could wait out the potential availability of Simmons should Philadelphia get off to a slow start.
Every indication from Daryl Morey, Doc Rivers, etc. over the past few weeks has been how excited they are to see Joel and Ben work together alongside the improved spacing from the rest of the roster. Those two young stars are what drew the veteran executive and coach to Philadelphia in the first place, and to so immediately blow up the situation would be a startling and abrupt turn of events. Now, if I’m Houston, I would absolutely be waiting for someone like Simmons. If you’re trading a top-5-ish player in the league, you better get a young star in return with whom you can credibly reboot your franchise. A package headlined by Caris LeVert or Tyler Herro just isn’t cutting it, I’m sorry. For all of those reasons, this Harden situation feels ready to drag on for quite some time.