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Have the James Harden for Ben Simmons rumors peaked? Time to look elsewhere?

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Anything can happen and all trade rumors have an expiration date of Thursday, at 3 p.m., but based on reports and discussions with league executives, there is a question whether the James Harden-for-Ben Simmons rumors have peaked.

And a suggestion that fans are looking in the wrong place for possible Nets trades.

Michael Scotto joined Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne and Jake Fischer in their belief, expressed Monday, that the Nets won’t do a deal by Thursday, a sentiment also shared by Joel Embiid who said that while he’s a fan of Harden’s, a trade is “unrealistic.”

Brooklyn’s stance remains to keep James Harden and let him and Kevin Durant get healthy alongside a part-time playing Kyrie Irving and chase the championship this season.

“The Nets aren’t trading Harden,” one NBA executive said when speaking with HoopsHype. “He’s staying, and they’ll take their chances in the playoffs. Maybe they’ll look to trade in the summer. They gave up too much to get him and have to see it through this year.”

Woj of course reported Monday that “It will take a lot more than Ben Simmons to get James Harden out of the Nets if the Nets are even willing to listen” and Fischer wrote, “[L]eague sources confirmed the Nets have no plans to discuss Harden trade scenarios ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET buzzer. The team believes in its impressive title chances when its roster is at full strength.”

NetsDaily heard similar things in discussions with league sources Monday.

Then again, speculation rose again Tuesday morning with word that Harden will sit again vs the Celtics as will Nic Claxton, both with hamstring issues. Harden wouldn’t comment on any speculation as he left Barclays Center after shootaround but teammates said he’s simply trying to get better.

“I think what he’s trying to do at the moment is take care of his hammy and look after it,” Mills told reporters Thursday. “And do everything in his power to make sure he’s healthy.”

FYI, none of the 76ers players mentioned in trade rumors — other than Simmons — are listed as out for Philly’s big game vs. Phoenix.

The key issue for for the Nets is whether, as Fischer and Bobby Marks expressed, Harden has bought into Kevin Durant’s mantra that everyone is on board for a title run. (Whether this applies to Kyrie Irving and his refusal to get vaccinated is barely discussed.) It’s matter of trust, Bobby Marks (no relation) said on YouTube Monday night.

Woj and Ramona Shelburne’s story was centered a similar question, with harsh rhetoric about his recent play highlighted. It would seem doubtful that the comments were a message to Harden (who speaks regularly with Sean Marks, Steve Nash as well as owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai. No need to send messages through ESPN.

Similarly, Keith Pompey, the 76ers beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, reported Monday that any deal for Simmons, specifically including Harden, was unlikely and Embiid told a Philly broadcaster “that’s something I really can’t comment about because he plays for another team, and it’s not realistic.”

But Brian Windhorst of ESPN, while noting the Nets denials, thinks it’s still possible noting that other teams are still uncertain of what’s going on and dismissing all the cross-currents in rumorland.

“It may come down to which side is more comfortable living with the status quo [if nothing happens],” one general manager says. “Both sides probably want to create leverage by saying they don’t need to do anything, but you can see why both have reason to.”

Windhorst, echoing Pompey, added that reporting on a Nets lack of interest in a deal “has not stopped back-channel conversations and movement by intermediaries, multiple league sources say. The game, however it might play out, is on.”

Windy adds the Nets may very well have other irons in the fire as the deadline approaches.

The Nets, for their part, are looking to see if there is a market for injured guard Joe Harris, while the Sixers are looking for a way to move Tobias Harris — potentially to clear cap space in the summer to sign Harden outright.

But these talks could just as well be a smokescreen, a masquerade by both parties to make it seem like each has more options than just a Harden-Simmons swap.

Scotto also mentions talks involving the injured (left ankle) Harris who is the second year of a four-year $72 million contract, and Nic Claxton who while playing well will be a restricted free agent and still affected by a series of nagging injuries and illness.

Leading up to Thursday, Brooklyn is looking to improve the team around its star-studded trio and has received calls on players such as Joe Harris and Nicolas Claxton. Harris’ value on the trade market has been affected by the possibility of a second operation on his ankle. Any team trading for Claxton would be able to have him enter the market as a restricted free agent by extending him a $2.23 million qualifying offer.

Also, James Edwards III of The Athletic reported Monday that the Nets are “poking around” on Jerami Grant, the 6’8” Detroit power forward who’s averaging close to 20 points a game and is only 27 years old. Edwards’ source said the Nets are unlikely to win the multi-team contest for Grant, but a deal for the Olympic gold medal winner would almost have to involve Harris. Grant is owed $41 million over two years.

Expect the Nets to also keep looking for Paul Millsap’s next team, although increasingly it looks like the market for Millsap, who turns 37 at the deadline, is limited and he’s more likely to be a buyout candidate. From Jake Fischer...

Elsewhere in the buyout market, Paul Millsap, Tristan Thompson, D.J. Augustin and Tomas Satoransky have been categorized as likely candidates to become free agents.

Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times suggested the Lakers may be interested in Millsap.

Maybe there’s a deal to be made for a player like Brooklyn’s Paul Millsap — another veteran, who sources have linked to the team, with some versatility as the Lakers utilize more small-ball strategies. But the Lakers need players who can move the needle. And, strapped for tradeable assets, the Lakers almost certainly can’t get anyone who will.

The Nets will also have to make some roster moves if they 1) want to sign Kessler Edwards to a a standard NBA contract, permitting him to play in the post-season and 2) if they want to keep a roster spot open for the March 1 buyout deadline. A number of names have been mentioned as possible Nets targets, assuming they don’t get moved by Thursday. The perspective list includes Thaddeus Young, Serge Ibaka and Gary Harris.

The Tuesday before the trade deadline — today — is often when the first wave of trades start to emerge. So stay tuned.