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Shams: Nets, 76ers open to Harden-for-Simmons trade talks

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Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Shams Charania is reporting — with multiple caveats — that the Nets are now open to trading James Harden to the 76ers for a package centered on Ben Simmons, Philly’s prodigal point guard, before the deadline next Thursday.

With the NBA trade deadline just days away on Feb. 10, the 76ers are expected to pursue Harden in the coming days and the Nets are believed to be open to discussing a deal, sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Athletic. There’s expectation that both the 76ers and Nets will engage in dialogue on a deal around Simmons for Harden, multiple sources say, with Philadelphia holding a chest of role players in Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle that could sweeten a potential package.

Friday night, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed Charania’s report, but added that the Sixers don’t want to deal any of trio mentioned by The Athletic reporter...

[T]he Sixers aren’t willing to include Maxey is any trade. The team also views Thybulle as close to untouchable, while Curry is the son-in-law of head coach Doc Rivers.

In addition, the Sixers have all their first round picks from 2022 through 2029. (The 2025 pick is protected top 6, 2026 and 2017 top 4.) The Nets sent all their firsts — three picks and three swaps — through 2027 to the Rockets.

Rumors of Philly’s interest in Harden are not new — he is close to 76ers GM Daryl Morey and and CEO Tad Brown, but in various reports from The Athletic, ESPN, Marc Stein and others, Morey was expected to wait until the off-season to make a serious foray. And just last week, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Sean Marks would not entertain offers at the deadline for Harden, who was just named to his 10th All-Star Game. Now, with the trade deadline 10 days before the mid-season classic, the question is which jersey will Harden be wearing.

Charania is careful to note that the Nets are not desperate, repeatedly noting in his report that the Nets don’t have the urgency to deal Harden.

[T]here’s no urgency for Nets officials, who have had the steadfast belief that the current core, as is, has the means necessary for a championship. However, it’s believed that an opening exists should an offer elevate the team and make the roster more well-rounded as the franchise pursues a championship.

Still, he notes that the Nets have not been that enamored of the differences between Harden’s ball-dominant style and the more open run-and-gun favored by the other two members of the “Big Three.”

Nets coach Steve Nash has met with his team’s stars over finding the balance and most beneficial styles, and although there have been bright spots, too often the team has reverted to a more dry offense at the end of games, especially against the league’s elite teams.

Of course, that was not an issue last season when the three played together, although it was a rare occurrence then and now.

Charania also noted that the Nets are looking at big free agency decisions on Harden and Irving. Marks had hoped to extend both players — going so far as saying he expected to have the two “signed, sealed and delivered” by the start of training camp. That didn’t happen, with Harden deciding not sign — purportedly because he could earn more money in a contract extension this summer — and the Nets and Irving called off negotiations after he made it clear he would not get vaccinated.

There has also been a sense that Harden has not been happy with the Nets decision to play Irving part-time. In January, after banishing Irving in October, Nets ownership and management relented and let Irving play on the road (outside of New York and Toronto.) Harden even joked (?) that he’d personally give the recalcitrant Irving the shot to get him back on the court.

Charania’s colleague at The Athletic, Alex Schiffer, said in a podcast Friday night that Harden is frustrated by a number of things with the Nets, not just his opposition to Irving playing part-time.

While Harden has thrown hints that he’s not crazy about Irving’s part-time status, a source with knowledge of Harden’s thinking said he’s frustrated in general with his Nets tenure. He came to Brooklyn expecting to be part of a three-headed monster, yet has played a similar role to what was required of him in Houston: having to be the guy. While Irving’s part-time status is unprecedented, a source aware of the team’s thinking said the 6-foot-2 point guard’s situation hasn’t been as much of a problem as one would expect because he’s played hard when available, albeit in a limited capacity.

Harden’s production has been up-and-down this year. Although he’s averaging 22.5 points, 10.2 assists and 8.0 rebounds, his shooting splits have dropped. He’s now at 41/33/87. His four-point output in Thursday’s game vs the Kings was a double milestone and neither of them positive. It was the fewest points he had ever scored in a game when playing 30 minutes and, as he volunteered, it was the first time in his 15-year career that he’d been part of a six-game losing streak.

Simmons, 25, is eight years younger than Harden and in the second year of a five-year $177.2 million deal that would take him through the 2024-25 season, when he’ll make $40.3 million. If he can return to play at his previous level — two-time All-Defensive team, three-time All-Star and one-time All-NBA player — the 6’11” Simmons would be a valuable and long-term piece for the Nets who have Durant signed through 2025-2026. An extension for Kyrie Irving would give the Nets additional stability.

Any trade would be extremely complicated because the large salaries involved. Harden makes $44.3 million and Simmons $33.0 million. But as Shams noted, there are pieces that Brooklyn could be interested in and “the Nets would surely want a significant haul from the 76ers.” Thybulle, a defensive ace, is close to Patty Mills. The two won the bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Simmons is also Australian. Brooklyn is bereft of draft picks, with no picks this year and an inability to trade any of their firsts till 2028, the result of what they had to give up a year ago in trading for Harden.

Charania acknowledged the degree of difficulty ... plus some uncertainty, noting two other teams, the Timberwolves and Hawks, have interest. Simmons of course has not played a single game this year as a result of his dispute with the 76ers over a variety of issues, led by his unhappiness with the manner in which Philly has dealt with his mental health issues.

The expected openness to engage does not mean a deal will come to fruition ... But it has opened the door to the possibility of a major blockbuster deal to occur on deadline week, which means Morey and the 76ers are primed to have their shot at Harden in-season.

Beyond the degree of difficulty in making a trade, Nets would also face a number of issues, big and small, if they did a deal based on Harden-for-Simmons. The Nets would have to give up on one “Big Three” and recreate another in mid-season, with Irving only eligible to play 13 of the final 31 games because of New York City vaccine mandates and Durant rehabbing from a knee issue.

As for whether he’s in basketball shape, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN wrote this earlier in the week...

He has worked out separately with his own group of trainers, according to sources close to Simmons. He has organized his own runs with local players. He has lifted weights at a local fitness club that’s open to the general public. He has seen his own therapist but hasn’t shared information about his treatment with the team.

Finally, the Nets would be helping a surging Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference contender by facilitating the trade and match-up of Harden with Joel Embiid.

Still, as Charania notes...

As the trade deadline nears, all eyes are now firmly on the 76ers and Nets to possibly get a deal done. There’s a renewed sense of urgency around these Nets, and it could create a domino effect for several teams that sets the stage for this year’s deadline to have a major impact.

John Hollinger put it more succinctly...

Watch this space.