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Report: Sixers and Nets still far apart on potential Ben Simmons-James Harden trade

The NBA trade deadline is days away, but things are murky when it comes to Ben Simmons and James Harden

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

As the NBA’s Feb. 10 trade deadline rapidly approaches, noise around the Sixers is only going to increase. Whether a Ben Simmons trade happens this week or months from now in the offseason, reports will continue to fly as teams talk and leak different information.

For now, it looks like the potential trade that everyone has been focused on for the last few days — James Harden for Ben Simmons — isn’t all that close.

Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this morning that Nets GM Sean Marks and Daryl Morey had a brief, initial conversation regarding a deal earlier in the season, which was “non-productive” and “didn’t have any impact whatsoever.” Pompey added that the Sixers also asked if Brooklyn would be interested in the inclusion of Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe in the trade.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported something similar in a new article as well. They confirmed that Marks and Morey had an initial discussion four weeks ago. However, while the Sixers expressed their interest in pursuing Harden before the deadline, the Nets’ quick reply was a firm “no.”

Meanwhile, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer came in with another strong report this morning:

As Nets head coach Steve Nash emphatically told reporters Sunday, Brooklyn leadership has shown zero inclination to move James Harden prior to Thursday’s trade deadline—for Ben Simmons or any rival package.

Neither the Philadelphia 76ers nor any team have even contacted the Nets front office regarding a Harden blockbuster, sources told B/R. There have been no negotiations, no offers, not even a framework discussed.

So, while Marks and Morey have probably had a brief exchange regarding a Harden trade (one that was quickly dismissed by Marks), it’s pretty clear that there has been no real discussion or development.

With there being so little conversation directly between the Sixers and Nets, Pompey touched on some other details regarding potential tampering, as the two teams have supposedly been using third parties to exchange information:

However, the source noted both sides are going through back channels and third parties to get information.

“It’s the most bizarre thing,” the source said. “It’s almost as if they are playing a game of cat and mouse … because of all the tampering [implications].”

Pompey added the following later in his report:

And as has been noted before, Harden has close relationships with Morey, Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin, and Sixers CEO Tad Brown. That’s where the tampering concerns arisen. A source said NBA teams fear that Rubin is putting things in place for a forced sign-and-trade through back channels. Teams think that’s why the Sixers are content with waiting until the offseason to deal Simmons.

People close to the Sixers deny the team is holding out for Harden or that they’re concerned about any potential tampering allegations. They maintain their focus is on getting an A-list player, whether it’s Harden, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Washington’s Bradley Beal, or other players in their class.

But with all the speculations and concerns from NBA general managers, one league source thinks a forced sign-and-trade for Harden would immediately ignite a tampering investigation. That’s why the source believes it would be best for the Sixers to acquire Harden before Thursday’s deadline.

So, yeah... It’s a complicated situation. Although, however it could pan out, a sign-and-trade in the summer currently seems more likely than a pre-deadline deal, given the current lack of detailed trade offers and discussions between both teams.

Wojnarowski and Shelburne noted in their report that both the Sixers and Nets believe they have “significant” leverage:

The Nets and Sixers privately believe they have significant leverage when it comes to Harden. The Sixers would want to offer a spartan trade package beyond exiled star Ben Simmons, because they believe the Nets risk losing him for nothing in the summer. The Nets would want a massive package beyond Simmons, because Philadelphia cannot acquire Harden without unloading significant talent and draft assets to create the salary cap space for free agency. The Sixers have $133 million on the books for the 2022-2023 season and creating the room to sign him would take the unloading of several players and draft picks.

Seeing as both teams would be moving a major trade asset and seriously reshaping their team in any deal, it’s no surprise that they’re both trying to present a strong standing.

There’s been so much smoke lately that there has to be something to a Harden-Simmons swap. There’s clear uncertainty about whether Harden wants to stay in Brooklyn past this summer, and with Kevin Durant still injured, Kyrie Irving still not playing in home games, and the Nets currently riding an eight-game losing streak, things haven’t exactly been going according to plan in Brooklyn. Harden being frustrated would be understandable, and his connection to Sixers personnel and possible interest in the team isn’t new. Wojnarowski and Shelburne added in their story that Michael Rubin and Daryl Morey, who both have a long history with Harden, believe the Nets star is interested in playing in Philly.

Furthermore, Fischer mentioned in his report that some people in Brooklyn have openly expressed their interest in trading Harden for Simmons:

Some Brooklyn figures have openly mentioned their interest in swapping Harden for Simmons, sources said. Harden’s recent bout of hamstring tightness—which has kept him inactive for four of the Nets’ last six games—has coincided with reports of his looming offseason plans and caught the attention of Brooklyn personnel and players alike.

That said, as today’s latest reports have made clear, there still haven’t been any in-depth discussions or offers made between Philly and Brooklyn. Even with Fischer mentioning the interest some members of the Nets organization have in a Harden-Simmons exchange, Fischer went on to reiterate that “the Nets have no plans to discuss Harden trade scenarios ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET buzzer.”

In a nutshell, both teams are very far apart on a potential trade right now and there’s a good chance that both Harden and Simmons stay put past the deadline (it’s a real shame to write this sentence after how many months this saga has already dragged on for, but here we are).

Fischer also reported a slight change in how some people close to Simmons are looking at what he should do if he does stay with the Sixers:

Numerous figures affiliated with Simmons’ representation insist he’ll never dress for the franchise again, but there are people around Simmons who have recently pushed for the All-Star to retake the floor if he’s not dealt, sources said.

Until Simmons actually steps onto the court in his Sixers jersey, I’ll argue that he’s never playing for the franchise again. But if some people close to him are asking him to consider it, that’s still a development in his camp, rather than just another positive spin coming from the Sixers.

Whether a Simmons trade happens or not before this week’s deadline, there’s no doubt that the next few days will be full of new reports to follow. We’ll keep you up to date with all you need to know here at Liberty Ballers.