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Sixers come up short in trade proposal for James Harden as Brooklyn Nets acquire superstar in four-team deal

The Sixers pushed hard in trade talks for Harden, who reunites with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.

Sixers' Joel Embiid fouls Rockets' James Harden during the  2nd quarter at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia in 2019.
Sixers' Joel Embiid fouls Rockets' James Harden during the 2nd quarter at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia in 2019.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The 76ers thought they had a deal for James Harden done, according to sources.

The team won’t come out and say it, but Sixers president Daryl Morey pushed hard to reunite with the 2018 MVP.

Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle were even informed by their agents on Wednesday of a potential trade, according to sources. A league source said the Sixers were going to send Simmons and Thybulle to the Houston Rockets in exchange for the three-time scoring champion. Houston also asked for Tyrese Maxey and draft picks, according to sources. However, a source close to the Sixers denied that Maxey was part of the deal.

A source close to the situation came back and said the Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was never going to send Harden to Philly unless he got Simmons, Thybulle, Maxey and two picks.

Harden ultimately was traded to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a four-team deal involving the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Rockets received Victor Oladipo from the Indiana Pacers, Dante Exum (Cavs), and Rodions Kurucs (Nets), in addition to unprotected first-round picks in the 2022, 2024, and 2026 NBA drafts. The Rockets also acquired pick swaps in 2021, 2024, and 2026. The Rockets are reportedly sending a 2023 second-round pick to the Pacers.

Simmons is elated that he wasn’t traded to Houston, according to an ESPN report. The Sixers’ facilitator believes the squad can win the NBA title. The report added that coach Doc Rivers is a huge fan of Simmons.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. Relationships between standout players and teams are sometimes irreparable under similar circumstances.

But Caris LeVert was traded to the Rockets, then sent to Indiana for Oladipo. The Rockets receive Cleveland’s 2022 first-round pick via the Milwaukee Bucks, along with guard Exum and forward Kurucs. Cleveland receives Nets center Jarrett Allen and forward Taurean Prince. The Nets receive a 2024 second-round pick from Cleveland.

After a 117-100 Rockets loss at home to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, the second loss to the defending champions in three days, Harden said the Rockets couldn’t compete with the top teams.

“We’re not even close, honestly, to that team — obviously they are the defending champions — and to all the other elite teams out there,” Harden said. “You can tell the difference in the last two games.”

When asked if he was surprised that the Rockets didn’t make a run at the Lakers in the game, Harden said:

“We are just not good enough, chemistry, talent-wise, just everything and it was clear, like I said these last few games. From the beginning of the game, they were aggressive — veteran team, obviously, championship team and one of the best teams we have in this league.”

Then he made one final statement.

“I love this city,” he said. I literally have done everything I can. The situation is crazy and something I don’t think can be fixed.”

If the Sixers had acquired Harden, it was assumed that Simmons would have been part of the trade. Less than a month ago, Morey told The Athletic, “We are not trading Ben Simmons.”

As general manager of the Rockets, Morey acquired Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden was an All-Star in each of his eight seasons in Houston with Morey, who resigned as GM in Houston in mid-October and was hired by the Sixers a few weeks later.

Counting this season, Harden has three years remaining on his contract for about $133 million. His final season is a player option, but it is for more than $47 million.

Harden is averaging 24.8 points and 10.2 assists in eight games for the Rockets, who are 3-6. Now he is in the same division as the Sixers.

Brooklyn was considered an Eastern Conference contender even before acquiring Harden, but things haven’t worked out according to the script for the Nets, who took a 6-6 record into Wednesday’s game with the New York Knicks.

The Nets have lost high-scoring guard Spencer Dinwiddie with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament. Wednesday will be the fifth straight game that Kyrie Irving has missed due to personal reasons. During his absence, a video appeared online of a maskless Irving at a birthday party for his sister. Published reports say the NBA is investigating the matter.

Assuming that Irving will return, the combination of Kevin Durant, Irving, and Harden will be among the most explosive. But will there be enough basketballs to satisfy all three superstars? Irving and Harden are ball-dominant guards.

The trade reunites Harden and Durant, who were teammates for three seasons in the beginning of Harden’s career with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In their third season together, along with Russell Westbrook, the Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals, losing to the Miami Heat in five games.

One question will be whether the Nets will have the depth without LeVert, Prince, and Allen, not to mention Dinwiddie.

Joe Harris and Landry Shamet are considered strong offensive players off the bench, and 32-year-old DeAndre Jordan will likely have to play more minutes at center in the absence of Allen.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Nets look to add more bench depth. They should contend, barring injuries, but with so many moving parts, first-year coach Steve Nash has his work cut out attempting to mold this team.