Sixers hoping to ‘flip’ assets from Harden trade for ‘All-Star-level guard’

FILE – Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey, left, in Camden, N.J., Feb. 15, 2022. 76ers’ James Harden, right, in Philadelphia, March 31, 2023. Disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden is expected to report to training camp Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Colorado despite a fractured relationship with the front office and his demand for a trade. (AP Photo/File)

Nearly four months after James Harden opted into the final year of his contract with the Sixers and demanded a trade, he continues to find himself uncomfortably employed by the team. As president of basketball operations Daryl Morey continues to pursue a suitable deal, one NBA insider has suggested the possible long game for Philadelphia.

On Thursday, Oct. 12, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski spoke on the perceived intentions of the Sixers’ front office, namely Morey, stating, “Daryl Morey’s motivation is, whatever he gets from the Clippers [in an assumed trade], he wants to be able to flip that for another All-Star-level guard that he could replace James Harden with.”

Woj went on to state that the Sixers could take a patient approach and even combine those theoretical assets and what few assets the Sixers have to acquire the All-Star-caliber player that Morey has pined for in trade talks. Wojnarowski said,

“The asking price this time of year for the players you might like to get to replace James Harden is going to be really high. So there’s not great motivation in Philadelphia necessarily to think that a deal with the Clippers now gets them the best value they can, the best player who might be available later in the year. And that’s why this may play out over time, especially if the Clippers are not going to up their offer and include a Terance Mann in the deal, who has been off the table in these talks so far.”

Woj also reaffirmed that the process likely continues to be slowed by the simple fact that the Clippers are not eager to bet against themselves for Harden’s services.

“…it keeps the Clippers from saying, ‘Listen, we’re not giving you two future first-round picks for a player in James Harden who might just be a one-year rental for us.'” Woj continued, “But you’re the Clippers, and you go, ‘We know we’ve made the best offer for James Harden. There’s not a great James Harden market out there.’ So that’s why this thing may be slow going well into the season.”

Slow and steady for the Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers’ Daryl Morey speaks during a news conference at the team’s NBA basketball practice facility, Friday, May 13, 2022, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The lack of haste Wojnarowski mentions certainly won’t enthuse Sixers fans, who are understandably anxious for this latest exasperating era to end, but there is precedent to suggest that a patient approach may be the correct approach.

The obvious example is that of Ben Simmons, which took place just two seasons ago. Despite Simmons’ demands, Morey held fast until what he, and nearly all at that time, perceived as the best available option became a reality. Through hindsight, it’s easy to cast a shadow on the Harden trade, but in that moment, Morey’s patience had paid off in a big way for the Sixers.

Another more recent example is that of Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Though the key difference between Lillard’s situation and that of both Harden and Simmons is that there was an actual market for Lillard, there is a lesson to be had that any player is capable of opening their mind to more than one landing spot, even someone as hell-bent as Lillard was to go to Miami.

As unlikely as it was that Lillard would add teams to his destination list, it feels even more so that Harden would ever follow suit, but that does not make it impossible.

However, even if Harden never adds another team to his list and a deal is eventually struck between the Sixers and the Clippers, there remains the separate issue of who would even be available for Philadelphia to target, but for the moment, that’s a secondary concern.

One thing is certain, the relationship between NBA stars and their franchises is volatile. You never know when another will hit the trade market.