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Stein: Will Daryl Morey try to spring a Ben Simmons for James Harden trade in summer?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the rumor that won’t go away, despite James Harden’s oft-stated love for Brooklyn, Ben Simmons basketball strike and the degree of difficulty, but yes, reports of a Harden-for-Simmons deal, presumably at season’s end, keep circulating.

Marc Stein is the latest reporter to discuss the possibility. The former ESPN and New York Times staffer wrote Monday about the possibility for his substack account. The core of the rumor is twofold, both related to Daryl Morey, the Sixers GM: Morey has long-time relationship with Harden going back to their time together in Houston and he’s been patient in waiting out Simmons. Stein reported of Morey...

Perhaps he 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, since the Sixers would be hard-capped by taking Harden in via sign-and-trade and would thus have to shed more salary than just Simmons’ contract according to the league’s luxury-tax rules to make it work financially. 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.

Of course at the time, Harden offered effusive praise for the organization from Joe and Clara Wu Tsai to the performance team, which Stein pointed to but with a caveat.

Don’t forget Harden’s interview with ESPN’s Malika Andrews after bypassing the extension in which he said that, difficult as leaving Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would be, he was indeed looking forward to sampling free agency for the first time.

Presumably, the Nets would demand a lot more than Simmons if for some reason Sean Marks would be interested. Simmons trade value has dropped after not playing since training camp. The Nets are, of course, bereft of draft picks are the Harden trade and always on the lookout for Australians, might be interested in Matisse Thybulle who won a bronze for the Boomers at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Nets would also, presumably, be interested in using Simmons, 25, in the post, not out front as he’s been used by Philly.

Stein argued that the Nets’ “rocky” start, complicated by Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated and now Kevin Durant’s absence, could open the door for a deal.

The Nets’ rocky season so far, with an unvaccinated Irving able to play only in road games after missing the season’s first 35 games and Durant now sidelined for at least a month by a freakishly unfortunate knee sprain sustained Saturday against New Orleans, hasn’t exactly quelled the notion that Harden might actually be gettable in the summer.

Stein is not alone in speculating (?) on Harden and Simmons. Among the other reporters who’ve mentioned the possibility are Brian Windhorst of ESPN and Keith Pompey, the long-time Sixers beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Meanwhile, Windhorst reported Monday that “There’s been some chatter through a couple of teams that I talked to that the Nets have dipped their toe into the trade market for Nic Claxton.”

Of course, it’s a long, long time between January and July and, as we’ve seen, things can change and fast.