clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Sixers rumor roundup: Sixers potential offer Harden didn’t want & new trade reports

Daryl Morey and the Sixers find themselves at another crossroads as Joel Embiid’s top running mate has asked for a trade now for the second time in just three seasons.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce New Players - Press Conference Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re looking at a couple of recent rumors from around the Sixers-phere. Both of them are related to James Harden, whose trade request has cast a gloomy (perhaps even boring) pall over the upcoming season.

How bought in will Harden be when training camp begins? How willing to sacrifice will the 10-time All-Star be this season when he apparently has a “fractured” relationship with Daryl Morey and the team’s front office because of how the organization approached his contract situation? What’s the best trade return they can get between now and the start of the season so that new coach Nick Nurse has enough time to work on his new system? Could they do better or worse nearer to the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline?

Unlike when Ben Simmons was holding out back in 2020-2021 (perhaps inadvertently protecting himself from injury), if Harden were to suit up and play, he would be at risk for injury, which could further diminish his niche market of suitors. How much would it hurt to lose him for nothing in 12 months when they could have at least accrued some draft capital in return?

The answers to these questions all threaten to derail the team’s season heading into another crucial year of 29-year-old Joel Embiid’s prime. Because if the Sixers’ best ball handler’s heart isn’t in it, that’s going to be one big problem for a team who already finds themselves behind (at least) Miami, Milwaukee and Boston in the Eastern Conference pecking order. If they strike a deal and lose talent, well.... depending on how Morey and/or Harden handles this situation, teams like the Cavaliers or Knicks could leapfrog Philadelphia as well.

Last week, HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto provided an eye-opening update on the Sixers apparent goals when it came to Harden’s July free agency.

Per Scotto:

Some with the Sixers were a little bit surprised James Harden opted into the final year of his player option. To my understanding, the best the Sixers would’ve considered was something along the lines of a two-year deal, which would’ve included a team option, and that type of short-term commitment wasn’t going to appeal to Harden.

Harden knew the team he wanted to go to, the Clippers, and the only way to get there and get his money was to opt in because of their restrictions with the salary cap. There’s still been dialogue between the two teams. As for Harden and Daryl Morey, it’s been a while since they’ve spoken, and their relationship is done.”

We have heard in the past that Philadelphia was thinking short-term on this subject.

That meshes with the way The Athletic’s Shams Charania has reported the situation too. Per Shams (back in June) “the 76ers made it clear throughout the process that the franchise did not see a long-term future with Harden, sources said.”

Since this news broke, teams named as potential suitors have included the Los Angeles Clippers, the New York Knicks, the Miami Heat and the Phoenix Suns. The Knicks may have registered mere lukewarm interest. The Suns have since scratched their star itch by adding Bradley Beal for the aging Chris Paul. And Miami, of course, now has their sights set on acquiring Damian Lillard. That’s left Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and co. as the remaining true suitors.

What’s new here from Scotto is the idea the Sixers were surprised, and thinking about offering a team-option for the 2024-2025 season. I must say I find it odd that the Sixers were surprised Harden opted in. Remember, Sam Amick of The Athletic, back in late June, reported:

“....sources involved in the matter say, it was a series of silent Sixers signals sent in recent weeks that compelled Harden to pursue that goal elsewhere yet again.....Sources say Morey, meanwhile, insisted that he was choosing not to discuss free agency before it was permitted by league rules, in large part because of the price that the Sixers paid for doing so previously.”

So if they weren’t openly communicating with Harden, and were poised to possess all of the leverage once Houston turned their attention to Fred VanVleet, if they were potentially floating the idea a team-option (which could limit Harden’s long-term salary options next summer) it probably shouldn’t have surprised them too much that he did what he did. And that’s true even if they were thinking about offering him even more money annually than he’s currently earning now.

That Harden may have even cost himself some extra money for this coming season specifically to increase his chances of being traded is an intriguing possibility as well (although his contract includes a trade kicker, he could opt to waive that in order to facilitate a trade to his hometown, in SoCal).

[Editor’s note: after this was published “a league source pushed back on the report, saying the Sixers never got the opportunity to make an offer with Harden opting in and the team looking to avoid any tampering penalties.”]

On Tuesday, Charania provided another small update for us on the Harden trade front.

Per Shams:

“In Portland and Philadelphia, trade requests from superstars Damian Lillard and James Harden remain unfulfilled, and we are nearing the point where awkward training camp situations could unfold....

The Philadelphia 76ers and LA Clippers are expected to engage again in discussions on a Harden trade this offseason, league sources who are involved in the discussions but unauthorized to speak on the matter say. Harden still prefers to be moved, and Philadelphia is working to honor his wish, as 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey recently said.”

So we had previously heard from numerous folks including Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice that the Clippers have been largely unserious in their offers for Harden to date. Perhaps this update that the two teams may engage again will present new offers for Morey to actually consider this time around.

L.A. can offer up to two first-round picks, Terance Mann, who represents an enticing wing jack-of-all-trades in the mold of a Bruce Brown, and salary-matching filler. Normal Powell is a solid talent with ties to Nick Nurse, but the former Raptor’s long-term salary may not fit with the Sixers’ long-term plans. Many believe Philadelphia is positioning themselves for a splash during next summer’s free agency period.

I included one mock trade in this poll piece where fans can predict if-when Harden will be dealt.

Complicating matters, no doubt, is the likelihood that Joel Embiid would prefer Harden stick around at least one more season. Harden played at an All-Star-caliber pace last season, averaging 21 points and a league-leading 10.7 assists, while helping the Cameroonian big to his first ever MVP trophy, after finishing runner-up to Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic the prior two seasons. The team was much closer than many folks remember, coming roughly four-and-a-half minutes (towards the end of Game 6) from hosting the Eastern Conference Finals.

Harden was the best player on the entire floor in two (both wins) of the seven games during that Sixers-Celtics series that featured Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown (all now supermax players). That impressive feat seems to be overlooked around here lately.

We’ve said this before, but how Morey (and perhaps Harden) handle this situation could shape the direction of the 76ers franchise for years to come. Reports that the team did not want to commit to Harden beyond more than one more season (a team-option would have allowed them to consider this all again next summer) and perhaps even went dark on The Beard would seem to explain the star’s frustration. Now, unlike the Sixers-Nets 2022 blockbuster that went down to the wire, it seems both the Sixers and Clippers would have some real incentive to strike a deal sooner rather than much, much later.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Liberty Ballers Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Philadelphia 76ers news from Liberty Ballers