Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Sixers trading for James Harden would be a mistake | Analysis

Harden is among the NBA's best players, but he has had trouble working with other stars

Sixers star Joel Embiid (right) fouls Rockets star James Harden in 2019. Should they be teammates?
Sixers star Joel Embiid (right) fouls Rockets star James Harden in 2019. Should they be teammates?Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Disgruntled guard James Harden has made it clear that he wants out of Houston and equally clear that he wouldn’t mind heading to Philadelphia.

Harden has earned eight All-Star berths with the Rockets and is the reigning three-time NBA scoring champion. We all know that current 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey acquired Harden from Oklahoma City for Houston and is a big backer.

Everybody is connecting the Sixers and Harden, and while it is tempting, here is some free advice for Morey: Don’t do it.

We all acknowledge Harden is a Hall of Fame player, but trying to pair him with fellow All-Stars hasn’t exactly worked.

First, one has to consider the price it would take to bring him to Philadelphia.

There have been suggestions that Morey could acquire him without surrendering Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.


If that is the case, Morey should be charged with grand larceny.

So let’s be realistic. If the Sixers brought in Harden, they would likely want to pair him with Embiid. Both Harden and Simmons need the ball, and it likely wouldn’t work.

In order to get the salaries to match, we put the following proposal through the ESPN trade machine and it said the following deal would work: Harden to the Sixers for Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and Shake Milton. In addition, Rockets general manager Rafael Stone should ask for two future first-round picks.

The Sixers may not want to give up that much, especially knowing that Harden wants out of Houston and the Rockets could eventually cave in. However, there is no reason to give Harden away for 50 cents on a dollar.

Harden has two seasons plus a player option left on his contract. The player option is for $47 million, and few people would expect him to opt out from that much money, even if he had to play in Siberia.

» READ MORE: Sixers looking for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid pick-and-roll combo to create chaos

From the Sixers’ standpoint, they would be giving away three players either 24 or younger for a 31-year-old ball-dominant guard.

No doubt, Harden would open up a lot of space for Embiid and for the rest of his teammates. But does having one player dominate the ball like that really work in the NBA?

In the long run, Houston would be better off making this trade, because the Rockets wouldn’t be ready to win this year if they trade Harden.

Then there is the question of whether Harden can work well with other All-Stars. His one trip to the NBA Finals came with Oklahoma City, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were the headliners, and he was emerging as a great No. 3 threat.

Since going to Houston, he has been the clear No. 1.

Here is how Harden has fared with fellow All-Stars:

Morey brought a still-in-his-prime Dwight Howard to Houston in July 2013, signing him as a free agent. The Rockets reached the Western Conference finals during Howard’s second year, sandwiched around first-round playoff losses his first and third seasons.

Howard didn’t click with Harden and departed.

Then came Chris Paul, who was acquired by Houston from the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2017.

Houston went 65-17 and advanced to the Western Conference finals during Paul’s first season, 2017-2018. The Rockets led Golden State three games to two in the Western finals, but Paul suffered a hamstring injury in Game 5 and he did not play the rest of the series. Had he been healthy, it could have been an entirely different story.

(In Games 6 and Game 7, Harden combined to shoot 6-for-25 from three-point range, with 14 turnovers and a minus-32 rating).

The next season, Houston lost in the Western semifinals, and then Paul was traded to Oklahoma City after not clicking with Harden.

Houston acquired another All-Star in that trade: Westbrook.

Harden and Westbrook lasted only one season after losing in the second round to the Los Angeles Lakers this past season.

Westbrook was recently traded to Washington for John Wall and a protected first-round pick.

To be fair, the ESPN trade machine says the Sixers would boost their win total by five and the Rockets would decrease theirs by 11 if this writer’s proposed deal was made.

The Sixers would have Harden, Embiid and Tobias Harris, three prolific scorers, Their defense, however, would take a major hit without Simmons and Thybulle.

» READ MORE: Julius Erving and son “J” Erving III join Inquirer Live to discuss family, success, and basketball

If the Sixers made this move, they would be saying that they are out to win a championship this year. Fans like that, but would Harden jell with fellow All-Star Embiid? Would the Sixers prosper with one player handling the ball so much?

It would be a bold move no doubt to acquire Harden, and Morey has become one of the NBA’s top executives because he isn’t afraid to go for a home run.

It seems the Sixers are better off the way they are constructed. But the speculation and chatter won’t die until Harden finds a new home.