The Harden/Philly Effect

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Updated: January 20, 2022
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Recent reports have come (presumably from the Philly front office) that James Harden is seriously considering signing with the 76ers in free agency come this offseason. Harden decided against extending with the Brooklyn Nets and despite his underwhelming production this year, he is still expected to get a near max in free agency as a high-level scorer and facilitator. This news has a multitude of layers to it and implications that may affect the options Philly has with their ongoing Ben Simmons situation that has yet to make any serious progress since he was placed on the trade market before the draft.

The first is obvious: an exchange for Harden and Simmons is defiantly more a likelihood if the rumors are true and Harden has intentions of not resigning in Brooklyn after this season. Harden has several ties with the Philly franchise and fits exactly what the Sixers are currently missing in a primary facilitator. For Brooklyn, since Durant is so ISO-heavy late in games, the time in which Simmons tends to disappear as a scorer becomes less problematic. Simmons’s early game production + defensive upside may fit perfectly next to Durant and Kyrie who both are late-game closers. They also lack size in the frontcourt and tend to go small which fits perfectly since the only spot Simmons can stand off-ball due to his lack of shooting is in the dunker’s spot.

The obvious implications of a possible trade are interesting, yet hardly the most provocative. Most analysts point to Embiid’s prime and the waste of one of his peak years as the primary reason that a Simmons trade must occur before the deadline. However, if Embiid and Morey really are on the same page and Embiid is okay with this year being a wash if it means brighter skies in the offseason in an exchange, this Harden news may be juicier than it appears.

The biggest hold-up on the Simmons trade is Morey’s fixation with having a top-tier point guard at the helm of his offense. The Ben Simmons trade chip is the only bullet in his arsenal capable of acquiring such a weapon and if spent on quarters, he knows Embiid will be the only dollar left on the roster. Everything that Morey believes in is situated in the multi-star perspective, and that the combination of superstar talents produces championship-level teams. He believes in this so strongly that he has often negated the human element of on-court fit in order to top-heavy his teams in Houston.

However, if they were able to acquire James Harden in a non-Simmons exchange and were able to get him in free agency, this would open up the possibility of trading Simmons for pieces, 4-quarters for a dollar. Now, obviously, Philly doesn’t have the cap room to just sign James Harden outright, they have 3 max players on the books in Embiid, Simmons, and Tobias Harris. But if James Harden is working with Morey and the Philly front office, the leverage in the offseason may allow for an array of possibilities. The most transparent would be a sign and trade of Tobias + pick(s) for Harden. Though at the moment Tobias looks entirely untradable due to his enormous salary, in the offseason he will only have 2 more years left on his ridiculous contract which simply just looks more ascetically pleasing.

This though would require Brooklyn’s compliance in a sign and trade and it is unclear how hesitant they would be in helping move a top-tier scorer to an in-Conference opponent. The other option though would include the dumping site where laundered money has been washed for the last 3 seasons, that being the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 Salary Dump

A pair of 1st rounders and a tandem of seconds would be sent as an offering to the OKC black market as collateral for the salary dump of Tobias Harris’ near 80 million dollars guaranteed on the books over the next two seasons. The flexibility acquired after the exchange for Philly would allow them with just a bit of maneuvering to be able to sign Harden as a free agent and bypass the need for Brooklyn’s approval in a sign & trade. Although if this many picks were sent in a sign & trade directly to the Nets, Brooklyn would likely opt to absorb the contract and probably would come at a cheaper price than the four picks included to OKC. However, the picks and Tobias would be a benefit to the Nets, whereas, sending him to Oklahoma would be more ideal for Philly even if it costs them a few additional assets.

What it would also do though, is allow Philly to wait till the offseason to trade Ben Simmons. In the offseason, there would be far more options available especially with regards to strong rotation pieces since the 76ers would already have their 2nd star in Harden at the 1.  After the playoffs, teams like the Hawks, Celtics, Knicks, Raptors, Pelicans, and Kings would have a clearer sense of how far they are away from being contenders which should make at least a few of them more open to the acquisition of Ben Simmons.

The price may look expensive to simply dump a decent player in Tobias Harris, but if seen from a different angle, it is essentially Tobias plus a few picks for Harden, allowing Simmons to be traded for parts rather than a starting point guard. They would no longer have the picks to attach to Simmons for a superstar, however, with sign and trade options back on the table for trade partners, and Morey’s scope of what he would be willing to accept in a deal widened, Harden, Embiid, and an extremely deep Philly squad could prove to be lethal.

 

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