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Ben Simmons-James Harden blockbuster round up: better now or later? Is Maxey involved?

Scouring for all the latest on a potential James Harden-Ben Simmons swap.

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Just when you allowed yourself to accept there would not be a Ben Simmons blockbuster this deadline, a big news story woke you up out of your dejected stupor and breathed new life in your flaccid lungs.

Let’s go for an internet tour and find some of the latest.

First, the Shams Bomb of the week. The latest on a Ben Simmons-James Harden swap per Shams Charania:

“There’s expectation that both the 76ers and Nets will engage in dialogue on a deal around Simmons for Harden, multiple sources say, with Philadelphia holding a chest of role players in Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle that could sweeten a potential package.”

The timing of all of this is interesting. Obviously, the looming Feb. 10 deadline is the biggest factor here. But last week Tyrese Maxey dropped 33 points to go with eight dimes to upset Ja Morant and the Grizzlies in a game Joel Embiid wasn’t even active for. Hours later, Harden was spotted by witnesses sleepwalking through a game in which he dropped four total points in a loss to the Kings.

Did Maxey show the Sixers they can now rely on him more heavily than they thought, making other players more expendable? Did he personally enhance their title odds to the degree they’d like to gamble more on a shakeup? Did Harden’s recent subpar play and rumors of his wandering eye combine to coax Brooklyn into suddenly listening to Morey’s constant advances? Did Nets GM Sean Marks catch a glimpse of Tyrese and say “you know what, I’m a Spurs guy, he reminds me of Tony Parker, let’s do this?”

Fans got busy compiling threads on that game, an embodiment of Bearded lethargy:

And of course, following the Nets’ sixth consecutive loss on Friday Harden raised eyebrows with comments about “internal” issues plaguing Brooklyn. The now 10-time All-Star showing frustration in this way only lends validity to recent reports from Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report that Harden has “increased interest” in exploring free agency.

But while fans were obsessing over the reasons Harden may want to play with Joel Embiid instead of Kevin Durant, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said the Big Three were committed to playing together on Jan. 26. So did that contradict Fischer’s reports? Did something change since late last month? That’s still a mystery.

Kyle Neubeck reporting for PhillyVoice weighed in on Shams’ update with some sourced intel:

“The idea that [the Sixers] should have to give up multiple valuable trade chips for a disgruntled player who could outright walk away from Brooklyn in the summer has already been mocked internally. If Harden is in danger of actively sabotaging what the Nets want to build, as Charania reports here, the Sixers don’t believe they should have to give up more than a multi-time All-Star in Simmons to get a deal done before February 10th.

“Brooklyn would love to get a 25-year old, multi-time All-Star who is under contract for multiple years in exchange for a guy who is unhappy and not under contract long term,” one source said.

It is still more likely, sources familiar with the situation say, that the Sixers complete a deal for Harden or a player of Harden’s caliber in the summer, rather than in the next six days....

Take this as you will — as of Friday evening, team sources told PhillyVoice there has been no significant conversation between the Nets and Sixers regarding Harden, with Philadelphia viewing this latest report as a signal that they’re merely open for business.”

So it sounds like Philadelphia has already taken action to push back against the phrasing in Shams report that the Sixers should or could add these “sweeteners” (how insulting!) like Curry, Maxey, or Thybulle. They may even be tempering fan expectations, hinting this is still more of a summer blockbuster that could air when “Jurassic World: Dominion” does.

We can infer that Ben Simmons is on the table. What more gets offered in either direction is perhaps what the teams will haggle over today and into this week.

A report by David Aldridge and John Robbins of the Athletic last week suggested neither Maxey and Thybulle were available in a potential Simmons-for-Bradley Beal swap.

I can’t imagine that if Wizards GM Tommy Shepard called Morey and said “Simmons and Thybulle for Beal and it’s done” Morey would hesitate. But the idea of Maxey being untouchable in a Simmons deal feels increasingly plausible. So we can only guess if that intel is true and if it would apply to Harden as well.

On the latest “Talking about Podcast” Sean Kennedy and I unpacked Tyrese Maxey’s breakout and whether or not we felt he was actually untouchable now. We disagreed a bit on how the Sixers might value Harden vs. Beal. We felt the chances they’d include Maxey in a deal by summer would drop, (if it’s even a consideration today). Go give that pod a listen.

When you read a report like the one from Shams, it makes sense that Sean Marks and the Nets are wondering if they couldn’t somehow wrangle a mega haul from the Sixers for their star.

Maybe Sean Marks would look to pull a Masai Ujiri in Denver, fleecing the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony who wanted to go to New York by summer anyway:

If the Nets think the Sixers will feel that urgency to help Embiid this season, they might try to charge a type of “tax” that they wouldn’t have the leverage to charge by summer in the event Harden wants to leave.

Actually Maxeys’ former Coach John Calipari hinted Thursday that Doc Rivers said Maxey is off limits in any Ben Simmons blockbusters.

Per Angelo Cataldi, Billy King and the 94 WIP Morning Show:

“I was worried to trade Ben, they were going to have to move Tyrese. I said, the way they could move him is, ‘I’ll take Ben, but I gotta have Tyrese.’ And I said to Doc, please tell me that’s not happening. He said, ‘Never happen.’ He said, ‘Look at my eyes, that will never happen.’ So I probably shouldn’t say that publicly.”

Who knows if we can take that at face value or not, but it’s at least interesting. Remember last season, Doc Rivers went on the Rich Eisen show and almost bragged he has shot down some of Daryl Morey’s trade ideas. So maybe Doc really has pull like that.

I tuned into a great podcast with plenty of slop on this subject.

Bryan Toporek with Bleacher Report and Forbes joined Trill Bro Dude on the “You Know Ball” podcast and outlined a scenario where the Sixers hoarded Simmons through the deadline, and strong-armed the Nets, essentially saying we’ll offer you Ben Simmons, or we’ll use our own draft picks to buy cap-space and sign Harden outright, up to you. And it all becomes a game of chicken between two division rivals on steroids. Fun stuff with cases for and against keeping Simmons past the deadline. Go listen.

Toporek has also outlined two scenarios which now become critical. One, if the Sixers were to trade for Harden now and obtain his Bird Rights, they could offer him around $270M. That’s what Brooklyn can offer him next summer if he’s not dealt, so he wouldn’t figure to lose as much money if traded now as he would in a sign-and-trade later. Two, if Harden were to opt in to the final year on his deal and wait six months, think late 2022-early 2023, he could actually make even more cash. Those figures and scenarios are here via BT:

On Saturday, a report came out by Sam Amick, Alex Schiffer and other reporters with even more intel. Per Schiffer The Athletic’s lead Nets reporter’s section:

“While Harden has thrown hints that he’s not crazy about Irving’s part-time status, a source with knowledge of Harden’s thinking said he’s frustrated in general with his Nets tenure. He came to Brooklyn expecting to be part of a three-headed monster, yet has played a similar role to what was required of him in Houston: having to be the guy. While Irving’s part-time status is unprecedented, a source aware of the team’s thinking said the 6-foot-2 point guard’s situation hasn’t been as much of a problem as one would expect because he’s played hard when available, albeit in a limited capacity.

Harden wasn’t on the bench for Friday’s loss in Utah. Instead, he was in the back of the arena getting treatment. Harden has said he wants to see what this team will look like at full strength to see what they’re capable of, which, to me, leaves the window open for him to stay.”

I have little doubt that Harden is frustrated with his Nets tenure but if this reporting is true, it’s hard to make sense of what the three-time scoring champ thinks the solution might be. Key injuries to the Nets Big 3 have prevented them from sharing the floor much over the last 12 months. Injuries can plague any team. But I suppose at least in Philly there isn’t any mandate in place (today) that would include the part-time player thing.

Is Harden really frustrated by these things that being in Philly doesn’t necessarily cure or protect you from (the Sixers would still need Harden to be the man quite a bit, even if Maxey can be that third monster head) or are they just the things his camp is citing since he wants a change?

Finally, a fun snippet from a recent Daily Six post by Derek Bodner gives us more to think about. Fans have debated a lot whether it makes sense for the Sixers to hold Simmons past the deadline or not.

Bodner examined some pros for holding the Sixers’ star past the deadline if no player of Harden’s caliber were to come available ahead of time.

Via Bodner:

“The problem comes if Harden’s request [next summer] is more “get me out of Brooklyn and to another contender” rather than “I want to play with Joel Embiid in Philly”. At that point, the assets that Morey has in his war chest, and thus the decision he makes here at the deadline, could prove to be vitally important....

The idea that Simmons, rather than a package of young players and picks, could have more value in a trade to net a star isn’t so cut and dry as you would expect it to be, especially not when talking about a player as divisive as Simmons is.

But the Brooklyn Nets are unique, and also happen to be the team holding the one star who is rumored to be contemplating a new home in the next few months.”

Final analysis

The Nets traded a mega ton for Harden.

Some folks think Cavaliers’ big Jarrett Allen should have made the All-Star game over Harden. That combined with the fact Harden may want out of Brooklyn, just 12 months after getting himself out of Houston, makes this a dangerous play for the Nets and the Sixers. Lose him for nothing, overpay to keep him, there are dangers on all sides.

If Morey feels he knows Harden well enough to take him at his word that he’d be open to signing long term in Philadelphia then maybe he’ll gamble. He once acquired Chris Paul in similar fashion, but it was probably a lot less scary to part with Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams for a possible rental than it would be to part with Simmons and let’s say Thybulle.

If the Nets successfully wrangled Simmons and Maxey for Harden, then Harden left the Sixers in free agency like Jimmy Butler once did, it would spell unmitigated disaster for Morey and co. Holding Simmons through the deadline, if they really feel there’s a solid chance to get Harden later, reduces that specific risk and likely increases the team’s chances to gain more leverage and retain those “role player sweeteners” as Shams writes.

If we don’t see Simmons dealt this deadline, we can start to wonder if part of that calculus was based on keeping Maxey, who Brooklyn might demand be included now but couldn’t insist upon later.

But is there a middle ground where both sides come away feeling their title odds improve long-term if not this season? Folks in Philly think a lot about Joel Embiid’s possibly slim title window. Kevin Durant, 33, now signed through his age 37 season, has hinted he does not have many years left, period. Both teams are in win-now mode, and both would be loathe to limit the title odds of their respective top-five overall player. Can two rivals find a way to work together on a win-win deal that leaves the other 28 teams feeling overwhelmed? We’ll find out in five days or less.