NBA trade rumors: Sixers see James Harden pursuit as legit, execs say

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Execs say Morey has new preferred Simmons trade plan: report originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

We're just over three weeks away from the NBA's Feb. 10 trade deadline, and the Sixers are still looking for the perfect way to leverage Ben Simmons into a piece (or multiple pieces) to make them a more viable championship contender.

It's incredible that the Simmons saga has lasted this long... and even more incredible that, according to executives around the league, it might last beyond the trade deadline.

That's according to new reporting from NBA insider Marc Stein in a new post Monday on his Substack newsletter.

Stein has spoken with executives and has some intriguing insight into what Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey might be thinking as the deadline approaches:

"Perhaps [Embiid] has also been sold on a concept that executives with a growing number of rival teams say they see as Morey's new preferred scenario: Keeping Simmons beyond the trade deadline to exhaust every last possibility for executing a complicated sign-and-trade in the offseason that finally brings James Harden to Philadelphia and routes Simmons to Brooklyn.

"Complicated is a polite description for such a deal [...] Yet it must be noted that there is enough noise circulating leaguewide about Harden's reported openness to relocation this summer -- after he turned down a lucrative extension from the Nets in October -- to give Morey the encouragement he needs to wait."

Hmm. Last we heard, Morey was trying to pawn off Tobias Harris' albatross of a contract in a Simmons deal - with the Hawks? With the Kings? Who knows? - but it would seem now he's thinking more about the upcoming summer than the Feb. 10 deadline.

Ideally, if Harden is not just willing but ready to leave Brooklyn, perhaps that can lower the Nets' asking price in negotiations? Because I doubt Sean Marks will be ready to start the conversation at a one-for-one swap. But with Harden's age and reportedly wandering eyes, ideally Morey can limit the damage to the Sixers' most valuable assets.

There's also the question of how to afford Harden's impending payday.

Harden can opt in for $47.4 million in 2022-23 before tacking on a four-year, $223 million extension onto that deal. The most likely scenario for a Sixers acquisition would be a sign-and-trade, so that's what they'd be paying Harden into his mid-to-late 30s.

Is it worth it? Long-term, almost assuredly not. But short-term, during Joel Embiid's current MVP-caliber peak? Yes. This is the title window. The Sixers can't afford to slow play anything anymore. It's win-or-bust time, and the Simmons situation is threatening to disrupt those chances.

Harden isn't his MVP-level self anymore, but he's still averaging 22.7 points and 10.0 assists per game. His shooting splits (41.9% FG/33.8% 3P/87.7% FT) are worrisome, and this wouldn't be my first option in terms of a Simmons trade, but Harden would absolutely make the Sixers a contender.

We'll soon see if Morey can coax a superior deal out of the rest of the league by the deadline, or if yet another Harden pursuit is truly in the cards.