DENVER — How do you feel about the 76ers bringing Jerami Grant back to Philly? Better yet, what about the Sixers making another attempt to acquire James Harden in exchange for Ben Simmons?
Those are two options under consideration by Sixers brass, according to multiple sources.
The team has engaged in ongoing discussions with the Detroit Pistons to acquire Grant, another forward, a young player, and a draft pick in exchange for Simmons, league sources said. One source said power forward/center Kelly Olynyk and second-year swingman Saddiq Bey were mentioned as players who could be included in a possible deal. However, a source said the Pistons are unlikely to include Bey, a Villanova product, or Olynyk.
A person close to the Sixers said the team would want a more high-profile player than Grant in exchange for Simmons. The source added that the team hasn’t spoken to the Pistons lately.
But multiple sources said the Sixers indeed have, and that the discussions were centered around Grant. The Athletic reported Thursday the Sixers have a list of 30 players they’d accept in a Simmons trade.
However, several members of the front office are keen on the idea of keeping Simmons this season and pursuing Harden from the Brooklyn Nets for a sign and trade, according to multiple sources.
Harden did not sign a contract extension with the Nets prior to the Oct. 18 deadline. The Nets’ All-Star has a player-option for $47.4 million next season.
It’s no secret that Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has an affinity for Harden from their time together with the Houston Rockets.
Morey attempted to reunite with Harden last season, offering Simmons and Matisse Thybulle in a trade. However, the Rockets eventually traded him to the Nets, where the 2018 MVP formed a Big Three with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The Nets (11-5) were tied with the Washington Wizards for first place in the Eastern Conference standings heading into Thursday night’s games. However, Brooklyn’s situation is a little unstable with Irving being suspended until he is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. He has refused to take the vaccine despite being unable to play games in New York.
Meanwhile, the Sixers improved to 9-7 and snapped a five-game losing streak with Thursday night’s 103-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Joel Embiid missed his sixth straight game after testing positive for COVID-19. The Sixers, who expect to contend for the conference title, haven’t been competitive in many games without Embiid. They’re 2-5 without the four-time All-Star, who has also dealt with right knee soreness.
There’s a good chance that Embiid won’t return on this six-game road trip, which concludes Wednesday against the Golden State Warriors. And he’ll probably need some time to get back in playing shape.
But Embiid’s health isn’t the only problem.
The Sixers are dealing with injuries to other key players and might not be consistenly competitive until they get them back. They completed a six-game winning streak before suffering major losses to the rotation. The Sixers are in sixth place and have only defeated two teams — the Chicago Bulls and Nuggets — with a winning record. They defeated the Bulls twice.
So, if the team doesn’t get healthy or improve quickly, the Sixers’ title chances could shrink no matter what trade they make. That’s why the team has considered holding onto Simmons and making a push for Harden in the offseason.
But if they do trade him this season, Grant will be one of their targets.
The Sixers have had discussions about Grant for several months, according to sources. In September, Detroit was unwilling to part ways with one of their young talents. That’s no longer the case for the Pistons, a squad that struggles to attract free agents.
At 4-10, the Pistons have to ask themselves whether they can rebuild around another high draft pick or build around someone like Simmons. The hope in this type of deal is that acquiring Simmons could lead free agents to Detroit to play alongside the three-time All-Star.
The Sixers drafted Grant with the 39th pick in the 2014 draft. Back then, he was a role-playing power forward known for his stellar defense. The Sixers traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 1, 2016.
After three seasons in Oklahoma City, Grant was traded to the Nuggets on July 8, 2019. He spent a season with Denver before inking a three-year, $60 million sign-and-trade deal with the Pistons on Nov. 22, 2020.
Grant had a breakout season after Detroit moved him to small forward. The 6-foot-8, 210-pounder averaged career highs of 22.3 points, 2.8 assists, and 33.9 minutes. He was a finalist for the league’s most improved player. Grant was a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won the gold medal this year at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Grant, however, isn’t the All-Star caliber player the Sixers were expected to hold out for. And his numbers are down this season after the Pistons moved him back to power forward.
But Grant, who has a 7-3 wingspan, is a solid piece to add. In this era of position-less basketball, Grant is athletic enough to guard positions one through five. He would be the ultimate role player to pair in the starting lineup with Embiid. He could step in and replace Danny Green at small forward. His presence would give the Sixers much-needed length and another versatile defender.
Meanwhile, Harden would be a great complement to Embiid. He has the ability to consistently get a bucket. Harden can finish isolation plays by taking opponents off the dribble or burying step-back three-pointers. He can strike fear in defenders while making things easier for Embiid.
The problem is, there’s no guarantee he’ll be available next summer. And even if he is, there’s no guarantee he’ll do a sign-and-trade with the Sixers. The Sixers must ask themselves if he’s worth waiting for with Embiid in his prime.
The one thing that’s obvious is the Sixers do have scenarios to contemplate.