Ben Simmons has still yet to play a game this season and likely never will again. Daryl Morey remains content to sit back and wait for one of the top 25 players off his mysterious list to become available rather than jumping the gun on a deal based around inferior players. One player who is almost certainly on that list is James Harden, and this would not be the first time he is linked to Daryl Morey or the 76ers.
Fool Me Once…
It was just prior to last year’s trade deadline where the Sixers were within hours of trading for James Harden. The Rockets elected to ship off Harden to Brooklyn instead, which left a sour taste in the mouths of many with Ben Simmons at the forefront of this list. While the breaking point of Simmons’ time in Philadelphia certainly came during the Hawks series, there were certainly hurt feelings from Simmons camp when word was received of the near deal.
It also is worth noting that some hurt feelings may have played a role in the Sixers not being able to land Harden at the deadline. It was just a few months earlier that Daryl Morey stepped down from his role of the Rockets GM by citing “personal reasons” and it being the right timing to prioritize family for the motivation for the move. For Morey to then take a job with the 76ers organization without even missing an entire offseason was something that did not sit right with Houston.
Why Is This Time Different?
Much of the connection between Morey and Harden have been overblown as the relationship between a GM, and a star is hardly enough to lure them to a new team. However, by all accounts, Morey has a very good relationship with James Harden, and the situation is entirely different as he heads into the offseason with just a player option remaining on his deal. If there is a recruitment process needed in courting Harden, Morey will absolutely have a leg up in this situation.
The biggest factor that has to do with James Harden’s potential availability is his contract. As it currently stands, the 32-year-old is in the final year of his deal, with a 1-year $47 million player option still on the table. It is also worth noting that Kyrie Irving is in a similar contractual situation with just a player option for next year remaining as well. If either or both of these players elect to push free agency, a sign-and-trade deal would absolutely be something that could be on the table.
The situation in Brooklyn is fairly fluid, with whatever happens this postseason likely playing a major factor. If Harden truly seeks to relocate, a sign-and-trade quickly becomes very appealing to the Nets. Rather than letting the player walk and go elsewhere, this would be a chance to gain assets while Harden makes his way out the door. This also would be a major aid to the Sixers as they dance around the salary cap in a way that does not stop them from making moves in the future.
It is also entirely possible that Harden could elect to opt into his player option and remain in Brooklyn. This would effectively rule out any move to Philly, and it must be kept in mind that it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to walk away from $47 million. The bottom line is that if James Harden wants to be a Sixer, they can make it happen, but that would take his desire and commitment from Harden to make this possible.
Is Harden Worth the Wait?
The other major factor is that this deal would almost certainly have to occur in the offseason. This would mean the Sixers pass on any potential Ben Simmons trades at the deadline and allow this drama to continue to drag out. It also means the Sixers would fail to utilize their biggest trade chip prior to the playoffs and accept not giving Joel Embiid the best chance to win a championship this season. There sometimes is too much impatience when talking about capitalizing on the championship window of the 27-year-old, but it is clear from his play that he is ready to compete for a title this year.
However, if there is not a suitable deal available before the February 10th deadline, having a chance at James Harden is far from a consolation prize. Harden and Morey tallied 397 wins during their time with the Rockets but were not able to satisfy their championship aspirations. Maybe a change of scenery and the addition of Joel Embiid is all that is needed to capture this.
From an on-court perspective, there should be little debate that James Harden would be the missing piece that the Sixers need. However, the only way that this can become a reality is if Harden wants to make it happen. Ensuring the long-term flexibility to make a play for Harden would be wise, but operating with this as a plan A rather than continuing to seek out a deal in the present would be a mistake.