You’ve probably read tons of reports by now that the Sixers don’t want to give up James Harden for nothing in a trade and that they’d much rather he return to play for the team. Harden wants to go home to L.A. and may not even want to report to training camp. But that path could wind up costing him a lot of money depending on how committed he is to sitting out. The other way to go might be for James to show up and play to get his checks, but act mopey until he annoys Nick Nurse, Tyrese Maxey, and Joel Embiid. We’ve been reminded by numerous top reporters that Harden’s beef is with Daryl Morey, the long-time exec who traded for him in 2012 which led to their partnership that started with the Houston Rockets. And we’ve heard that his beef is not with the Sixers’ players.
But now Harden and Morey are on bad terms since Harden didn’t get the long-term deal he was hoping for nor the trade he feels he was promised this offseason. At least that’s how the story seems to go, even if some reporters aren’t necessarily buying each element.
This is the third segment of a multipart series hoping around podcasts for nuggets and intel about your Philadelphia 76ers. The last one was in that link above is about whether or not the Sixers may have done anything illegal while negotiating with Harden. The first one was about ESPN’s Zach Lowe calling out Josh Harris for overseeing 10 years of terrible decisions and “chaos” in Philly.
Let’s focus this time on some specific James Harden-Clippers trade intel.
First we’ll start with the inaugural PHLY Sixers podcast, titled “Introducing the PHLY Sixers podcast, How & when will the Sixers resolve the James Harden saga?”
It was hosted by Derek Bodner and Kyle Neubeck. And both long-time Sixers beat insiders provided lots of intriguing intel for us:
Neubeck: “Some inside baseball for people on the Clippers element, and the [Harden] opt in scenario from earlier this offseason: the week leading into his opt-in decision I had got several different tips that there’s something going on with the Clippers and Harden and it’s one of those things that you try to report on but you can’t pin it down and you don’t know enough. It’s a lot of NBA just whisper games. And at the time none of it’s making sense, right? Because the Clippers were up to their ears in spending [with no cap room].... and then all of a sudden James opts-in and I think that surprised people within the Sixers, I think that surprised people around the league.”
This is not the first time we’ve heard the Sixers were surprised Harden decided to opt in. There has been speculation from reporters (which we will look at in more detail in the next part of this pod round-up series) suggesting the team would have made Harden a substantial offer had he indeed opted out. If that’s the case it’s certainly possible Harden cost himself some cash with an emotional and rash decision. Some fans think that’s a reasonable assessment of what went down and take his calling Morey a “liar” in front of fans in China as more evidence that the 10-time All-Star, who has long-operated without an agent, is not acting in his best interests.
But whether Harden made a rash or prudent decision by opting in (which he did after apparently not hearing from the Sixers during the period when speaking with even your own free agents would be considered tampering) isn’t an open-and-shut case. But we’ll look more at that idea in the next post.
For now, we’ll hop over to “The Lowe Post” podcast hosted by ESPN’s Senior Writer Zach Lowe, who offered plenty of Sixers insight on a recent podcast with ESPN’s resident NBA capologist Bobby Marks.
“I have heard that [Harden’s] relationship with his teammates remain good. He likes playing with [Joel] Embiid although there’s obviously been this push and pull of like between ‘do I get to play Harden-ball or do I have to play set-up-Embiid ball, whats the right balance?’ I think the reporting that [Harden’s] ‘initial meetings with Nick Nurse went very well’ is legit. There are parts of that organization that [Harden] likes..... I would bet that Daryl Morey values those two first-round picks [the Clippers possess] especially if they’re unprotected, higher than Terance Mann or Norm Powell even though he can take one of those guys and still have max cap room [next] summer just because his whole thing is ‘what gets me the star?’.... If the clippers were to put both first-round picks in with Mann, without Mann, even without maybe, I think there’s a two team deal that exists that the Sixers would do. I don’t think the two teams have been anywhere close to any of that kind of deal, which is why I think the only play I see for the sixers here are bring [Harden] to camp, hope the better angels of his nature take over, if that’s even a possible thing, he plays pretty well and the Clippers and some other teams with high expections sputter over their first 20 games and get desperate and then we’ll get the offer we need.”
So maybe the stuff that Neubeck was hearing before Harden opted in was some rumors that the Clippers were kinda, sorta open to trading for James, and that even being a possibility enticed him to do what he did? We can only guess there because thus far, as Lowe notes, the Clippers aren’t anywhere close to the type of offer Philadelphia would accept for their point guard.
Morey has given us more than a few hints that the Sixers are looking to be players in free agency next summer no matter what happens this season. Back in July he said “what we’re attempting to do is have the best team possible this year, but also have the ability that, if we get into a next-season situation, to be a very unique team with the most cap room of a team that’s as good as us,” he said. “That’s a very unique situation to have.”
Because of Daryl’s statement and the clear friendship with James, (let alone the need he could fill on L.A.’s roster) I’m throwing P.J. Tucker into the deal to give you a visual sense of the two-team framework that Zach outlines.
Courtesy of Fanspo’s trade machine, in this version below the Sixers do get wing Terance Mann, some expiring contracts, one former Sixer in Robert Covington, and two first-round picks, one unprotected, one protected no. 1-8.
That hypothetical Sixers team might not be better than the one they fielded last year. They’re still missing Harden, and Maxey may be working a ton on his game with Drew Hanlen this summer, but he’s still not likely to fill the playmaking role Harden provided last season or figures to provide this year — if he were bought in. But it’s still potentially a 50 win second-round team, and now adds a talented role player and precious draft capital to replenish the coffers.
Here’s another version without Terance Mann:
In that version, the Clips don’t get Tucker but they get to keep Mann while parting with both picks.
And one “compromise” version where the Sixers get Mann, and just one pick:
What do you think, would both teams go for any versions of the above blockbusters?
Let’s hop back over to Kyle Neubeck from the PHLY pod for more on this trade theme:
“....the tea leaves say there’s nothing good really out there [trade wise] right now. Daryl Morey’s clear position or the line in the sand that he’s drawn has been ‘if I’m not getting like a legit deal for James, [Morey] would rather deal with the discomfort [of having a disgruntled Harden in town].... I think [Harden is] still going to be here. I think it’s going to get really uncomfortable. But I think Daryl Morey is willing to live with that... the Sixers are having their training camp in [Fort Collins at Colorado State]... my guess right now, is that you probably won’t see James Harden in Ft. Collins and then once the preseason comes back to home turf, and closer to Philadelphia, that’s when you might start seeing the fireworks go off....
At another point in the pod, the duo continued:
Neubeck: “I know that Daryl is holding out for a star or an impact-type player, most likely scenario is they get a few role players, a couple role players on movable and/or expiring contracts, some draft picks back, and then its essentially the Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid show.....”
Bodner: “I do think, because like right now if you look at what the Clippers are offering, it’s probably nonsense.”
So there you have it. Neubeck discusses the same general framework that Zach Lowe mentions. And all three of Lowe, Neubeck and Bodner confirm for us what we’ve heard that the Clips aren’t getting anywhere near the type of offer Morey would accept right now. So maybe we do head into preseason for some “fireworks” as Neubeck puts it. And then we can hope that some team sputters just enough to inch closer to Morey’s price for the one Hall of Fame talent his legacy will always be tied to.
If there is a two-team deal to be struck between Philly and L.A. maybe it wouldn’t look too different from a couple of the iterations we saw above. If you want it to happen then you can begin the season by rooting for Harden to show out while rooting against the Clippers.