With all the leaks and rumors now exposed about the prospect of a James Harden trade, what might the exchange look like? It’s all speculation so far, but there are parameters to what’s possible and not ... and what could become deal breakers.
The Athletic, both through Shams Charania’s original reporting and a subsequent podcast featuring Alex Schiffer and John Hollinger, tries its hands at it. While there is little publicly known about what’s going on behind the scenes, there’s one constant: Everything starts with Harden for Ben Simmons.
Charania in his reporting believes that the Nets would likely want a treasure in return for the 10-time All-Star.
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.
But other pundits think that the Sixers will not give up all that. Indeed, as Keith Pompey, the Sixers beat writer who confirmed Charania’s initial report reported...
[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.
Kevin O’Connor, on Bill Simmons podcast, reacted similarly...
My understanding is that, from Philadelphia’s standpoint, there’s no chance they give up Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle is unlikely in that deal, it would be more like an older player like a Danny Green.
There could be a LOT of moving pieces. Expect names like Curry, Maxey, Thybulle as well as Green, Furkan Korkmaz maybe even Tobias Harris mentioned on the 76ers side, Millsap, Jevon Carter and maybe even Nic Claxton on the other. It could also involve a LOT of teams. After all, Sean Marks pushed through a five-team deal in the Spencer Dinwiddie trade.
Even with all that speculation, Hollinger, a veteran of the Grizzlies’ front office, says it all begins with the love affirmed between Harden and Daryl Morey, the Philly GM who tried to build around Harden in Houston and reportedly sees Harden as a “basketball savant.”
One of the biggest questions for Philly is what Harden wants to do contractually. Would Harden rather wait until the summer, when he could opt into his 2022-23 season and then (in August) add four years on to the end? Is Philly OK with that kind of downside risk at the end of his deal? And on the flip side, can the Sixers handle the risk of Harden opting out of his deal this summer and becoming an unrestricted free agent? (Probably so, given that nobody has cap room, but …).
You can see the bigger picture here. Because Harden can be an unrestricted free agent after the season, trading for Harden also means a tacit agreement to pay Harden, and perhaps pay him quite a bit. His max deal, if he tacked on a four-year extension this summer, is $275 million over five years, including $62 million in 2026-27. Harden will be nearly 38 years old when that deal ends. Of course, the Sixers (or Nets) are not obligated to max him out, and no other team can come close to paying him this kind of money, so this all could be a preview to a very interesting offseason tug of war.
Hollinger also noted that in a straight-up deal centered on Harden and Simmons, the 76ers would have to give up something.
Philly has to add at least $2.5 million in salary to a deal to trade Simmons for Harden, necessitating another Sixer to be in the deal. The lowest-impact way to do this is probably to send Furkan Korkmaz to Brooklyn and Paul Millsap back to the Sixers, but there is going to be a lot of haggling over assets.
The higher impact way of course would be to give in the Nets desire, particularly for Maxey, a 6’2” combo guard who’s 21 and scored 39 points in his debut as a starter last week. Is he that untouchable that adding pieces on the Nets side of things would softer their resistance? That’s what GMs do for a living which brings up the question of leverage. Who has it? The Nets with a 33-year-old future Hall of Famer who Morey covets and a willingness to take on a troubled player or is it the 76ers who know Harden could leave for nothing in the summer but who know their own three-time All-Star wants out (and reportedly wants Brooklyn?)
The Sixers will argue that they’re sending a 25-year-old All-Star to Brooklyn who is signed for four years in exchange for an older player who wants out and can leave after the season. The Nets will argue they’re throwing the Sixers a lifeline after Simmons didn’t have nearly the market value they originally hoped, and that Harden is the one who actually made the All-Star team this year. Blahblahblah.
There are other issues, like the Nets bare draft cupboard. Stretching out to 2029, the Nets have two firsts they can trade, in 2028 and 2019. They have no picks, first or second round, this year in a draft that’s not seen as good as the one last July but reasonably good. The 76ers on the other hand have firsts galore. Other than their 2025 pick, which is protected top 6, they are flush. They have a few seconds as well. Would Morey counter the Nets offer for one of Philly’s young stars with a pick-heavy offer? The Nets lost a lot in the Harden trade. That kind of deal would doubtlessly require multiple teams.
And while everyone is reporting on the possibility of an off-season sign-and-trade, it would almost certainly lead to Philly being hard-capped next season.
Then, there’s the money issue. Joe Tsai has said repeatedly that he will spend what’s needed to win a championship. But suppose the Nets brain trust doesn’t think a new “Big Three” can win it all? A trade centered on Hardens for Simmons would save Tsai a lot of money.
Brooklyn could potentially save a lot of money on a Harden-Simmons trade; the one I outlined above, for instance, would save about $40 million in salary and luxury tax payments. Conversely, the Sixers would add to their luxury tax penalty if there isn’t another large salary going out with Simmons. A trade of Simmons and Danny Green for Harden would be pretty close to neutral financially; virtually any other plausible combo saves the Nets a ton of money, and would likely result in harder Philly haggling on assets and prospects.
That money could be used in the future on other trades, acquisitions at the buyout deadline (March 1) etc.
Hollinger also noted that Simmons will have to be fully vaccinated for any trade to work. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne wrote earlier this week, “sources say Simmons chose to get vaccinated.” However, for him to play in New York City, Simmons would have to be fully vaccinated. and the city defines “fully vaccinated” as “14 days past an individual’s last vaccination dose in their initial vaccine series (14 days past the second shot of a two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine; 14 days past the one-shot Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine).”
Hollinger’s colleague, Schiffer, summed up the Nets needs and how pickings from the Philly roster could help.
The Nets getting a young, talented player with a high ceiling such as Maxey, if they could add him, would extend their window and give them another scorer alongside Durant. Seth Curry and Danny Green would give the Nets some much-needed shooting, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Joe Harris at the moment. Matisse Thybulle’s defense is much-needed for a unit that has ranked in the NBA cellar during its seven-game losing streak. And any first-round pick is better than none. The Nets can upgrade their supporting cast mightily and get younger, two things that were rather unlikely in a deal without a big asset.
Again, nothing is certain. The ball, reportedly, is now in Morey’s hands. He no doubt thinks he has leverage, as Hollinger said. And don’t be surprised if we see stories that other teams are making their own final bids for Simmons or that the Nets are considering filing tampering charges against Philly based on all the rumors (and God only knows what else.) At the same time, pundits will note the connections, some of it exaggerated, the two sides have: Harden with Morey and Philly CEO Tad Brown, Simmons and Thybulle with fellow Australians Patty Mills and Adam Caporn, the Long Island coach. It’s all part of a dance that apparently has already begun.
And for a look at what Philly fans are thinking, Go to their round-up.
- What could James Harden-Ben Simmons trade look like? How would it transform the Nets & Sixers now and in the future? - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- How much is too much for Sixers to offer for James Harden? - Kyle Neubeck - Philly Voice
- James Harden to Philadelphia: Why now? - Yossi Gozlan - Hoopshype
- James Harden to the 76ers? Here’s how it could happen - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Hold Your Horses On Harden Trade Until Sixers Pony Up - Steve Lichtenstein - Steve’s Newsletter