CHICAGO — If you’re keeping track of the NBA’s top stories, where Ben Simmons ends up around 3:05 p.m. Thursday is the league’s hottest topic.
Will the disgruntled point guard remain a 76er past the 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline? Will Simmons be traded to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for James Harden? Or will he end up on a surprise team?
Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said on Jan. 20 that it’s “less likely than likely” that Simmons is moved prior to the deadline. A league source said Sunday that Simmons wouldn’t be moved at least until June’s NBA draft. And Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said Sunday the team wasn’t going to trade Harden.
“I’ve talked to James; he wants to be here,” Nash told the media before Brooklyn’s game at the Denver Nuggets. “And he wants to be here long term as well. So I don’t think anything’s changed other than noise from the outside. James wants to be here.
“We’re building with James and we think we have the best chance to win with James. So I don’t think anything’s changed on the inside in our locker room, in our communication. It’s just all the noise from the outside.”
The noise he’s referring to are reports that Harden is unhappy in Brooklyn, welcomes becoming an unrestricted free agent, and wants to play for the Sixers.
Even though Nash said the team wasn’t going to trade Harden, The Inquirer confirmed a report that Brooklyn may be open to sending him to the Sixers for a package that includes Simmons.
But a source said Sunday that isn’t something that just came about. The source added that Nets general manager Sean Marks and the Sixers haven’t had thorough discussions about a Simmons-for-Harden deal. However, the source noted both sides are going through back channels and third parties to get information.
“It’s the most bizarre thing,” the source said. “It’s almost as if they are playing a game of cat and mouse … because of all the tampering [implications].”
NBA teams suspect the Sixers are tampering in the hope of acquiring Harden through a forced sign-and-trade for Simmons this summer. However, people close to the Sixers don’t believe they will face any tampering charges.
But a source said Morey and Marks did have a preliminary discussion that included Harden and Simmons a month ago at the urging of others. Those discussions are typically about what teams would want in a trade. Multiple sources said the Sixers also asked if Brooklyn was interested in acquiring Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe to help with a deal as a third team.
“The conversation was non-productive,” one of sources said. “It didn’t have any impact whatsoever.”
However, the source said the Nets haven’t fully closed the door on trading Harden, regardless of what’s being said publicly.
“People are saying one thing to one person and saying something completely different to someone else,” the source said. “I get the impression that that’s epitome of the entire situation on all fronts.
“I get the impression that they want Ben and they know the Harden thing is coming to an end and it’s not working anyway. There’s a sense that Simmons could be the lesser of two evils.”
To be honest, it doesn’t make any sense at this time for Brooklyn to part ways with the 10-time All-Star this season. The Nets acquired him from the Houston Rockets last season to form a Big Three with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Some may point to the Nets suffered a 124-104 setback to the Nuggets Sunday, extending their losing streak to eight games. They’re in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings with 19 games remaining in the regular season. If the season ended Sunday, they would have to participate in the play-in tournament just to make the postseason. Despite that, the Nets (29-24) are still regarded as one of the NBA’s elite teams. They just need to get healthy.
Harden missed his second straight game Sunday with left hamstring tightness. The unvaccinated Irving can only play in games outside of New York City after missing the first 35 games of the season. Meanwhile, Durant has been sidelined 11 games after suffering a knee sprain against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 15. Nash said Sunday that the team doesn’t have a timetable for Durant’s return, but he was originally listed out for at least a month.
However, there’s been speculation of Harden wanting out after he did not sign an extension before the deadline on Oct. 18. At the time, he said the Nets had “nothing to worry about.”
With that said, Harden still could leave as a free agent this summer. He can also opt in to his $47.4 million contract for next season and sign a four-year, $223 million extension at the start of free agency.
Nash said he’s had constant conversations with Harden since the summer.
“He’s continually reiterated that he wants to be here, and we’ve continually said that we want him here and that that’s our best chance to win,” Nash said. “So nothing’s changed from the communication we’ve had ... We think when he’s healthy and Kevin’s healthy and Kyrie plays, our team is a totally different team. And we’re excited by it.”
ESPN reported Saturday that Durant wants to continue to play with Harden. However, there have been a lot of conflicting reports about what Harden actually wants to do. When asked by the media, Harden has denied reports about his hating Brooklyn and wanting to play elsewhere. Yet, sources have said some in the organization are privately questioning his commitment to remaining in Brooklyn, and becoming frustrated with the uncertainty. A source added that despite the public support, key players wouldn’t be disappointed if Harden is moved due to the uncertainty of how he truly feels. That’s where Simmons comes in.
The Sixers point guard would be the best asset the Nets could get in return for the perennial All-NBA selection if Harden’s tenure in Brooklyn does come to an end.
And as has been noted before, Harden has close relationships with Morey, Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin, and Sixers CEO Tad Brown. That’s where the tampering concerns arisen. A source said NBA teams fear that Rubin is putting things in place for a forced sign-and-trade through back channels. Teams think that’s why the Sixers are content with waiting until the offseason to deal Simmons.
People close to the Sixers deny the team is holding out for Harden or that they’re concerned about any potential tampering allegations. They maintain their focus is on getting an A-list player, whether it’s Harden, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Washington’s Bradley Beal, or other players in their class.
But with all the speculations and concerns from NBA general managers, one league source thinks a forced sign-and-trade for Harden would immediately ignite a tampering investigation. That’s why the source believes it would be best for the Sixers to acquire Harden before Thursday’s deadline.
However, the Sixers aren’t willing to give up a lot for a player before the trade deadline that they could get for less in a sign-and-trade later.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported the Sixers could package Matisse Thybulle, Seth Curry, or Tyrese Maxey to sweeten the deal. However, the Sixers aren’t willing to include Maxey in any trade. The team also views Thybulle as close to untouchable, while Curry is the son-in-law of coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers was asked before Sunday’s 119-108 victory over the Chicago Bulls if he’s had to address being linked in a possible trade package with Maxey.
“All of the discussion is from a writer ... You know what I mean?” Rivers said. “Some of this stuff is crazy. ... I’ll get a call from one of our coaches telling me about an article from a guy that works for the agency of one of the agents. Why would we ever comment on that stuff? It’s so silly. So those are the things I stay away from and I don’t get involved in.”
Rivers incorrectly stated that Charania was represented by United Talent Agency, which partnered with Klutch Sports Group. Klutch represents Simmons and Maxey. Charania is a client of The Montag Group.
Rivers did add that Maxey has nothing to be concerned about. However, one gets the sense that the Sixers will breathe a sigh of relief once the trade deadline passes.
“I’m sure the moment that passes they can take a deep breath and say, ‘OK,’ unless they didn’t want to be here. Then that can go the other way. But yeah, it has to be.
“For me, you know, I don’t know if I change anything. For me, it means I don’t have to listen to all the silly trade calls that I get.”