The rumor mill continues to spin as the offseason carries on for more than 90% of the league. For the Philadelphia 76ers, the primary topic has been centered around James Harden and his ongoing contract drama. Harden, who is expected to decline his $35.6 million player option, has been most frequently connected to the Sixers and his former squad, the Houston Rockets. Outside of the prime suspects, one team has continuously been murmured to be a surprise team to watch in the Harden sweepstakes has been connected in yet another rumor.
A reunion for Harden, but not with Houston?
The Phoenix Suns, who are leaving no stone unturned as they search for yet another star, have once again been linked to James Harden. In a recent piece covering the effect of the Suns’ decision on Chris Paul, NBA insider Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports shined some light on recent rumors that have been making their way around between league personnel.
“…there’s the idea of Phoenix exchanging Paul for James Harden, which has quietly circulated around some league personnel since the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. A reunion between Harden and Durant makes for great fodder, and the bearded point guard could feasibly pick up his 2023-24 player option on the condition Philadelphia trades him to the Suns. You may remember Paul pulled that exact maneuver to join Harden in Houston in 2017.”Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer
Recently, NBA Insider Ramona Shelburne also raised Phoenix as a team to watch, stating, “I want you to keep your eye on James Harden. I don’t want to report anything, but that was in the wind for the past month or so.”
Fischer would go on to say that despite this rumored interest, it may not be an ideal situation for Harden, stating, “Harden, though, stands to gain quite a bit more financially from either staying pat with the 76ers or returning to the Rockets and their $60-plus million in waiting cap space.”
It would also be fair to suggest that trading away James Harden for Chris Paul would not be considered ideal by the Sixers either. The idea of acquiring Chris Paul may have been one of excitement once upon a time, but those days are past as one of the greatest point guards of all time faces the twilight of his career. Last season, Paul averaged 13.9 points along with 8.9 assists. Solid production, yet not exactly inspiring either, especially compared to what Harden provided the Sixers.
Outside of good, but not great, play, Chris Paul does not offer the Sixers much more than some added financial flexibility. Paul’s contract next season has $0 guaranteed, meaning the Sixers could cut him after the season and free up to an additional $30 million for the 2024 free-agent class, which will include names such as Jaylen Brown, Dejounte Murray, and DeMar DeRozan; there are also several intriguing players to watch with player options such as Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and OG Anunoby. Aside from that long-play financial benefit, there may not be much reason for interest from the Sixers’ side.
Chris Paul is still a productive player, a valuable leader, and a brilliant basketball mind, but surely Philadelphia has bigger things planned that, right?
What are the Sixers’ alternatives?
Focusing on sign-and-trades with the Suns, the Sixers would likely prefer to have Phoenix include center Deandre Ayton, who is also on the trade block, over Chris Paul while adding a theoretical third team to the deal to land the Suns’ center. That could understandably be too steep of a price for the Suns, however, so for the sake of this exercise, let’s focus on Paul continuing as a centerpiece.
The Sixers and Suns could recruit a third team to complete the deal. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers both come to mind as potential landing spots for Paul, though neither has a particularly enticing offer for Philadelphia unless they are willing to part with first-round compensation. The Lakers still have their 2029 first-round pick available, while the Clippers own the 30th pick in this year’s draft and their own first-round selections in 2028 and 2029.
This is, of course, putting the cart ahead of the proverbial horse. There is still much to discuss before any final decisions are made, but one date to watch is June 28, the day that Chris Paul’s contract becomes fully guaranteed for the 2023-24 season.