On Thursday’s episode of NBA Today, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided an update on where James Harden trade talks stand between the Sixers and the Los Angeles Clippers.
As Wojnarowski first reported last week, the Clippers have been offering their unprotected 2028 first-round pick to other teams around the league to sweeten their package for Harden. He said Thursday that the Clippers are expected to reach out to the Sixers soon and gauge their interest in any of the potential deals they have lined up.
Before you begin celebrating Harden’s imminent departure, Wojnarowski added that “this thing may be slow going well into the season.” But he also shed some light on what Sixers president Daryl Morey may be hoping to accomplish with any Harden deal:
“Daryl Morey’s motivation is whatever he gets from the Clippers, he wants to be able to flip that for another All-Star-level guard that he can replace James Harden with. And so I think to slow-play it—to take a combination of whatever the Clippers would give them and their own assets—to go out and make a deal to replace James Harden, because you are trying to win right now with Joel Embiid.
“I think the problem for this time of the year is, who is that player or players out there that are available in the preseason, in training camp? Those kinds of players, they emerge as you get deeper into the season, teams start to maybe look at going in a different direction. Maybe they’re not going to re-sign a veteran player, they want to move off of him. The asking price this time of year for the kind of players you might like to get to replace James Harden is gonna be really high. So there’s not great motivation in Philadelphia necessarily to think that a deal with the Clippers now gets them the best value they can, the best player who might be available later in the year.
“That’s why this may play out over time, especially if the Clippers are not going to up their offer and include a Terance Mann in a deal, who has been off the table in these talks so far. And it keeps the Clippers from saying, ‘Listen, we’re not giving you two future first-round picks for a player in James Harden who might just be a one-year rental for us.’ But, you’re the Clippers and you go, ‘We know we’ve made the best offer for James Harden. There’s not a great James Harden market out there. So that’s why this thing may be slow going well into the season.”
So, let’s recklessly speculate about which All-Star guard whom the Sixers might be targeting.
Zach LaVine is the obvious answer, but the Chicago Bulls reportedly set a sky-high price for him this offseason. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reported they would want a “good young player, multiple first-round picks and salary filler” if they decided to trade LaVine, which doesn’t appear to be in the cards for now.
If the Sixers have LaVine has their main target, they’ll have to hope the Bulls get off to a slow start and reconsider their refusal to blow up their core. At that point, the Sixers could send Harden to the Clippers, while the Clippers would ship their package (presumably with Mann and multiple-first round picks) to the Bulls, and LaVine would come to the Sixers. That would require the Clippers valuing Harden more than LaVine, though, or the Sixers throwing in additional assets beyond Harden to get him.
Beyond LaVine, there aren’t many obvious All-Star guards to target in trades. They already missed their shot on Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and Bradley Beal this offseason, and they wouldn’t even have a shot at Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Anthony Edwards if any of them did somehow become available in the near future.
CJ McCollum might be the next-best player on the periphery of that conversation. He has never made an All-Star Game, but he’s one of the best active players who still hasn’t. The 32-year-old has averaged 21.7 points, 4.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 45.4 percent overall and 39.6 percent from three-point range over the last eight seasons.
However, a backcourt pairing of McCollum and Tyrese Maxey would have many of the same issues that the McCollum-Lillard duo had in Portland. He’d also cut into the Sixers’ vaunted 2024 cap-space plan, as he’s signed for $33.3 million next season and $30.7 million in 2025-26.
The Toronto Raptors could easily take a turn for the worse this year, but they don’t have a high-end shooting guard who could fill the void of Harden. And unless the Sixers gave up Harden and only Harden, they’d ask the Raptors why they should trade more when they can just sign either Pascal Siakam or O.G. Anunoby in free agency next offseason.
Regardless of what Morey and the Sixers front office may have up their sleeve, it’s interesting that they’ve identified another All-Star guard as their biggest need alongside Maxey and Joel Embiid. If that’s the case, it bears wondering what their long-term plan is at the wing, since they don’t have any obvious options at that position currently on the roster.
Those are questions for another day. For now, it seems like the Clippers are slightly more active in their efforts to acquire Harden, but not altogether that serious if they’re still unwilling to offer Terance Mann or more than one first-round pick for Harden. Unless they can flip that 2028 first-rounder into multiple premium assets, it’s hard to see how the Clippers and Sixers bridge their current gap in trade talks.