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What will it actually take for Sixers, others to pry James Harden from Houston Rockets?

Houston’s reported asking price of Ben Simmons and three first-rounders is somewhat legalized robbery.

Indiana Pacers' Malcolm Brogdon (7) has his shot blocked by Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons (25) during the first half on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Indiana Pacers' Malcolm Brogdon (7) has his shot blocked by Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons (25) during the first half on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Indianapolis.Read moreDarron Cummings / AP

It’s obvious that there’s a high probability the Houston Rockets will trade James Harden sooner rather than later.

Where he’ll end up, if that happens, is the big unknown.

Regardless of what the 76ers say publicly, Philadelphia continues to be perceived as a likely destination for the 2018 NBA MVP.

The Sixers’ interest in Harden was documented before former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was introduced at president of basketball operations on Nov. 2.

So why would it change now?

Harden’s skill set and Morey’s analytics-driven system brought out the best in both men during the previous eight seasons.

The 6-foot-5 guard blossomed from being the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year in Oklahoma City to a seven-time All-NBA selection with the Rockets. He also won the last three scoring titles and has been the only player to be named first-team All-NBA in each of the past four seasons.

By the way, he has helped the Rockets secure the NBA’s longest active playoff streak with eight consecutive appearances. They finished with a franchise-record 65 regular-season wins during the 2017-18 season. Many believe the Rockets would have advanced to that season’s NBA Finals if not for Chris Paul’s strained right hamstring injury in the final minute of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. The Rockets had a 3-2 series lead, but eventually lost in seven games to Golden State as Paul was sidelined the remainder of the series.

Morey’s adoration for Harden has been documented. “James Harden changed my life,” Morey wrote in a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle on Oct. 18 to thank people who helped him during his 13 seasons with the team.

Morey, who announced his resignation three days earlier, went on to write, “An entire page could be dedicated just to James. He not only transformed my life, but he also revolutionized the game of basketball — and continues to do so — like almost no one has before. The game is played differently because of James, and on every playground in the world, the next generation of talent is studying and imitating his game. “I can’t believe I won’t be able to have another strategy session with James.”

» READ MORE: Sixers coach Doc Rivers tight-lipped about call to Ben Simmons amid trade rumors

Morey’s feelings, the Sixers’ prior interest, and the Rockets’ initial trade request are reasons no one would be surprised by reports of Ben Simmons, 24, being available in a possible trade for Harden. The Rockets made it known that they want a young cornerstone player in any package in exchange for the 31-year-old.

The problem is Houston’s reported asking price of Simmons and three first-rounders is almost legalized robbery. It would be insane to give up that much for a disgruntled player that the Rockets are trying to unload.

Simmons is coming off a campaign in which he was voted third-team All-NBA and first-team All-Defense. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound facilitator is one of the league’s fastest and most athletic players. The only thing holding him back from being unstoppable is a hesitancy to shoot.

You don’t give up someone of his stature and three draft picks for someone a team wants to get rid of.

Nor do you want your cornerstone player knowing that there’s a willingness to include him in any potential trade, especially if talks are nowhere close to a deal.

That could create a strained relationship between the players and the organization. It could also keep other teammates, who could be included in the deal, on edge while pondering their own futures.

The Sixers don’t need those kinds of distractions.

Morey has repeatedly said he wants to keep Simmons and Joel Embiid together. And he tried to squash the reports by telling The Athletic, “We are not trading Ben Simmons. He is an important part of our future.”

True or not, Morey had to say that.

There’s no guarantee that a deal will get done. Several playoff-caliber teams are reportedly becoming committed to providing top trade assets to acquire Harden. As a result, one has to figure the Sixers would have to include Simmons in any package to get Harden. There’s probably no other package the Sixers can provide Houston that comes close to making sense.

For now, there appears to be a lot of posturing.

It’s in the Rockets’ best interest to make the Sixers and another potential trade partners think there’s at least one team willing to give up a lot for Harden. It’s also in the Sixers’ best interest to convey that they’re content with their current roster and not willing to mortgage their future.

» READ MORE: Patient Sixers have the upper hand in trade discussions with Houston Rockets for James Harden | Notes

Don’t be surprised if one team calls the other to make a serious offer. Then the other team will make a counter offer.

And if a deal is with the Sixers, we’ll know exactly what they were willing to give up.