We are not even a full 24 hours into life with James Harden having opted in and requesting a trade away from the Philadelphia 76ers, and the rumor mill is already churning away at full capacity.
Impressions are that the Los Angeles Clippers are Harden’s clear preferred destination, and the Miami Heat and New York Knicks are two other teams that have at least been mentioned by league newsmakers.
Today, however, Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports shared additional intel on the current Harden situation, and brought up a new potential destination: Chicago.
“Philadelphia does not have to move Harden to his preferred destination with the Clippers. President Daryl Morey, league sources told Yahoo Sports, has already been active in exploring the trade market for Harden outside of just dealing with Los Angeles and the team’s obvious interest in landing the point guard. At this early point, the Sixers are at least projecting a patience to this trade process, similar to how Philadelphia signaled it would take its time moving Ben Simmons before ultimately flipping him to Brooklyn for Harden at the 2022 trade deadline. Chicago would be one potential trade partner to keep in mind, as the Bulls have made Zach LaVine available in conversations this offseason, sources said, and could also send an All-Star such as DeMar DeRozan back to Philadelphia. But there will be many avenues the Sixers explore before finalizing a Harden trade.”
The Bulls are an interesting potential trade partner, and the two Chicago stars Fischer mentions would represent vastly different paths the Sixers could go with their trade search. The 28-year-old Zach LaVine would be the star-for-star trade Morey would likely prefer. LaVine is about to enter the second year of his five-year $215 million contract that will see him become an unrestricted free agent in 2027. Acquiring him would mean getting an All-Star in his prime and locking into a core of Joel Embiid, LaVine and Tyrese Maxey. That core probably isn’t among the upper crust of contenders, but the team would remain somewhat in the mix, hoping for Maxey to take another leap. Of course, a deal structured around LaVine would mean the Bulls are committing to a fairly drastic reboot and I’m not really sure Chicago is there yet.
The DeMar DeRozan path would be a much less perfect fit on the court; you would have obvious spacing concerns next season with an Embiid-DeRozan pairing. However, DeRozan being an expiring contract would open up future flexibility similar to the gap year plan that was discussed previously if Harden had walked in free agency. Philadelphia could muddle through with DeRozan for a year, staying reasonably competitive to keep Joel appeased, and then make a splash with cap space next summer. The Sixers wouldn’t have to give up whatever remaining draft assets they have like they would in a LaVine deal either.
In addition to the new bit about Chicago, Fischer also mentioned some fresh items on the Clippers.
“There’s certainly a sense among league executives that Philadelphia isn’t operating from a position of particular strength, but the Clippers are looking at potential long-term salary savings that would at least call for some form of draft compensation back to the Sixers. Los Angeles has also made starting center Ivica Zubac available in trade talks, sources said, with an idea of retaining veteran big man Mason Plumlee in his stead.
The Clippers are expected to show resistance in including any prized young player, such as Terance Mann or Bones Hyland, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Los Angeles also has held a longstanding regard for Tucker, sources said, as the Clippers have registered interest in Tucker at various points over the past several seasons when Tucker tested the open market.”
For those hoping Mann could be looped into a potential deal, that unfortunately may not be on the table. Zubac being available is intriguing, not because he would be happy playing behind Embiid, but because plenty of clubs would love to have him and a third team could be included to send the Sixers a wing or draft asset in exchange. You might also view Tucker potentially heading out as a positive, if you were worried about that player option in the 2024-25 season when he’ll be turning 40. I’m not sure Embiid would be thrilled with P.J. leaving, though, after basically asking management to bring him in and offering a lot of praise for him throughout the year.
While there would be an advantage to a team making a deal today before the new CBA goes into effect on July 1, it doesn’t seem like Morey will be in any hurry. We’ll keep you posted here on all the latest developments.