The February 10th trade deadline is fast approaching, and we officially entered trade rumors season. The most recent development of the Ben Simmons situation is that the 76ers are now trying to add Tobias Harris to the package. Adding another max guy, and creating a $72 million package makes it even less likely to move Simmons - so why would Daryl Morey make his life even more difficult? Brian Windhorst said the answer could be James Harden.
Simmons & Harris
Many teams have been mentioned in connection to Simmons, and we know the usual suspects are the Timberwolves and the Kings. According to recent reports, the Atlanta Hawks had a somewhat serious conversation with the 76ers about Simmons, but according to Marc Spears, ”Atlanta was interested until they brought Tobias' name up.”
Harris has been underperforming this year, particularly for a max guy, so Daryl Morey feeling out the trade market for him is not surprising. But packaging him with Simmons creates a huge problem - their combined salary is around $72 million, and by NBA rules, the trade partner would have to send out a minimum of $56 million going the other way.
Atlanta isn't a farfetched candidate for a trade partner, given they have been underwhelming this season. The alarm bells rang when their GM Travis Schlenk ripped into his team and basically announced a lot of options are on the table. “It's a hard pill to swallow when you're team isn't playing as well as you think it should. Maybe I should lower my expectations for this team,” said Schlenk. “There's no sense of urgency to make a stop. There's no sense of accountability that 'I'm going to stop my guy.' It's just not there... it doesn't bother them. I hope it's a switch we can flip, but I don't know at this point.”
“We have a few weeks before the trade deadline here, and this is what I need to figure out. It's my responsibility to put a product on the floor that can win, and right now, I'm not sure I have done that.”
Travis Schlenk, SI.com
So obviously, the Hawks are looking to make a major move, and the player most talked about as the centerpiece of their package would be John Collins. He's had problems with Trae Young in the past and voiced frustration about his status several times. Other players like Bogdan Bogdanović, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Huerter would also probably be available.
So if the Hawks came up as a viable candidate, why scare them off by adding Tobias Harris to the mix?
Big game hunting
We all know Daryl Morey is in the superstar business. As he accepts the reality that getting someone like that for Ben Simmons is not happening, Morey seems to have shifted his focus on a different approach.
“You may say to yourself - why would the Sixers want to do that? It's so hard to make that trade. The answer that I got, what executives around the league think, is that one of their options is they want to make a run at James Harden next summer.”
Brian Windhorst, The Hoop Collective
Harden elected not to extend his deal with the Nets before this season and will be a free agent this summer. His connection to Morey is well known - Harden was who Morey wanted all along. So theoretically, this could work. Obviously, the Sixers would be getting a minimum of $56 million in contract back, but the assumption is Morey would offload those players much easier than Ben Simmons and create the necessary cap space. At least $48 million, to be a bit more precise. Several clues make this more than a wild goose chase.
First of all, the Nets may not be too thrilled to pay Harden around $50 million per year, given he's shown noticeable signs of aging (and Harden's lifestyle doesn't point to great physical conditioning). ”Having been around the Nets for a week, I would be hesitant right now to give Harden that max extension a year from now,” said Nick Friedell. ”I've watched Harden, and I've seen him a lot in Houston, and it's heading in the wrong direction.”
Who's Harden's no.1 fan and most likely to still think he's worthy of a massive contract at age 32? That's right, Daryl Morey. The move with Atlanta would set the stage to get Harden as a free agent, but that's not the only possibility.
“I want to be very clear. Some executives in the NBA believe that one of the end games for Ben Simmons is that he's traded for James Harden in a sign-and-trade next summer.”
Brian Windhorst, The Hoop Collective
The second factor to consider is the Kyrie drama. Harden is chasing his first ring, and as much as he's publically supported Irving, you can ask Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook how long it takes for Harden to cross you off and move on to the next thing.
And then there's a behind-the-scenes factor that doesn't often get mentioned but turns out to be crucial when stories of moves like these are told after the fact. ”He has a relationship with Michael Ruben, one of the 76ers part owners. That's not a secret, there was a feature in the New York Times on Ruben. The reporter sat with him at a Sixers-Nets game and reported how he was talking to Harden during the game.”
We all know a part-owner of a team talking to another team's player would be tampering, and that doesn't happen in the NBA. Adam Silver's NBA is very consistent in enforcing those rules. But adding all those pieces together - suddenly trying to offload Harris, Morey's connection with Harden, the Nets' possible reluctance to give him a huge deal, the drama with Kyrie, and Harden's relationship with the 76ers part owner - all point in the same direction.
Daryl Morey may get the Embiid & Harden combo he's been dreaming of, after all.