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Report: Sixers prefer waiting for Harden or other star over current offers

Teams are reportedly making offers for Ben Simmons, but the Sixers might look for a bigger deal this offseason.

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Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

After a relatively quiet weekend Sixers trade rumor wise, we’re back for your regularly scheduled programing. There are 18 days to go until the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline. If Daryl Morey, Elton Brand the Sixers are focused on executing a complicated three- or four-team blockbuster, they probably don’t want to push this to the absolute wire because then the process of dotting all of the i’s could risk derailing the entire deal. Waiting until the final day places fate into too many hands outside of the team’s war rooms in Camden and Philly. The sweet spot trade window begins right now.

If the Sixers don’t make a trade they’ll face heavy criticism publicly, the likes of which they haven’t tasted since “The Process” days (even though much of that criticism was off base and it was actually their 2019 summer which deserved our full wrath).

A familiar bearded face

So where do we stand today?

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“But multiple sources, including people with direct knowledge of the team’s thinking and also from rival teams involved on the Simmons front, tell The Athletic that the 76ers are believed to prefer to wait in order to pursue Harden or another superstar in the offseason and thus want to save Simmons for that potential sign-and-trade rather than take what’s available on the current market.”

So what do we make of this update? There has been no shortage of smoke surrounding this James Harden sign-and-trade rumor. Morey apparently still has eyes for the player he once traded for back in Houston. The player who blossomed there from sixth man to perennial MVP candidate is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

But would the Sixers really hold out hope (through the deadline) that The Beard would agree to join the Sixers? Philadelphia has not traditionally been a market superstars select over other big market options. Harden once had the choice, Shams notes, between Philly and Brooklyn and chose New York just one year ago. Details about the trade which landed Harden on the Nets (and not Philly) are hazy. But most feel Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta did not want to do business with his recently departed former GM in Morey.

So Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and a few draft picks all canceled their plane tickets.

That last line cited above, “what’s available on the current market,” is certainly intriguing. Could this update be a mere leverage play by Philadelphia? If a team like the Sacramento Kings or Indiana Pacers even wondered if the Sixers were content to wait, might they make a bigger push today? We’re not going to land Simmons if we don’t kick in one more pick.

Shams notes that Harden could make much more money by staying put than he could changing teams:

“If Harden opts into his player option, he is eligible for a four-year, $227.2 million max extension, making it a total five-year, $274.7 million contract. Should Harden opt out and join a new team, he is eligible for a four-year, $200.1 million max deal.” [1]

The $200.1M figure is nothing to sneeze at, but the extra $75M, in total, extending into what would be Harden’s age 37 season has to be tempting. What’s stopping Harden from signing his extension in Brooklyn this summer, and then playing wait-and-see about his feelings? He could always ask for a trade in two years with the extra money already in hand. Harden just demonstrated that a player can sign a super max then simply ask out later. Cake you can eat.

While updates that the Sixers are prepared to wait through the summer for bigger fish are not new, that we’re still hearing these reports just a few weeks from the cutoff point gives them added weight.

But this nugget from Shams was new:

“The Charlotte Hornets have been among new teams placing a Simmons inquiry to the 76ers, but there’s been nothing substantive, sources said. In return for Simmons, the 76ers have wanted a top-level All-Star or a package featuring a bevy of first-round draft picks for Simmons.”

The more teams are in the mix here, the better for Morey. Morey hinted on The Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 last week that Joel Embiid’s incredible play has made them feel “we have to make sure we get this right.” Although he did concede that Embiid has played so well they may not need a top 30 player, it’s possible a top 40 player could work. So let’s add another 10 players to that list, and sprinkle in some Hornets.

Back in Nov. we guessed who the players on Morey’s list were and threw in an extra ten or so. Names like Kings’ guard Tyrese Haliburton or Hornets’ wing Miles Bridges might fit the bill now that we’re into that top 40 territory.

So what about those Kings? They’ve been talked about a ton lately.

Shams continues:

“For Simmons, the 76ers have asked the Kings for guard Tyrese Haliburton and multiple first-round picks, and asked for a package around John Collins and multiple first-round picks from the Hawks along with Atlanta taking on Tobias Harris, multiple sources tell The Athletic.

And the report added “There’s no sense of panic (to do a deal before the deadline),” one source with knowledge of the Sixers’ thinking said.”

Final analysis

The Sixers probably have several complicated offers they’re focusing on right now, which might go down before the deadline. A deal where they’d return a Halliburton, a useful role player like Buddy Hield, plus draft compensation on top, might thread the needle for Morey. That type of framework would allow them to help Joel Embid this year, and might keep them in the running for a player like Harden or Damian Lillard come July. And maybe all of this is about the draft compensation around that type of framework or finding a third or fourth team to facilitate.

On the other hand, there probably does exist some genuine incentive for the Sixers to play wait-and-see for Harden. If Harden were open to change and listed two or three teams he wanted, then having Simmons on the Sixers’ roster might prove key in topping rival offers in a financially tidy way. The Sixers would need the cooperation of Brooklyn in that scenario. If the Miami Heat for example were willing to include Kyle Lowry in an offer for Harden, that figures to top any offer Philadelphia might make that did not include Simmons. Matching Harden’s massive salary without a max contract is difficult.

Harden has not played like a player worth sacrificing everything for, let alone sacrificing everything for an outside possibility of acquiring him. There are no clear indications he’s unhappy at all where he is. Whatever he felt today might change with the coming playoffs. Kevin Durant figures to have a pretty hefty say in whatever happens. He lost Harden once before to Morey, he may do what he can to prevent that from happening again.

I can’t even tell you if the likelihood Harden would ask for a change is higher or lower should the Nets win the title this year.

With just a couple of weeks to go before the deadline, it feels to me like there’s somewhere between a 55 to 68 percent chance a Simmons deal goes down prior to Feb. 10. But if it doesn’t, they’ve probably already considered myriad possibilities for the summer, and Harden is likely just one of several targets. Landing Harden might be a major long shot. But landing any of Harden, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Jaylen Brown, or Zach LaVine might shorten those odds quite a bit.

[1] We analyzed this deal last week and came up about $20M short. So thanks to The Athletic for these updated figures.