The 76ers’ pursuit of James Harden will involve more effort than approaching the Brooklyn Nets superstar and saying, “Just sign with us during free agency.”

The projected salary cap for next season is at $119 million and the Sixers currently have an active roster cap hit of $150 million for the 2022-23 campaign.

As a result, they’ll have three options to get Harden and put an end to the Ben Simmons saga.

The first one involves trading for Harden before the Feb. 10 trade deadline. The Sixers could also try to clear up substantial cap space to acquire him in free agency. And lastly, they can opt to get him from the Nets via a sign-and-trade.

But in the last scenario, the Nets would have to be willing to orchestrate the sign-and-trade to the Sixers. And Brooklyn may opt to stand in the way of Harden reuniting with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, his former Houston Rockets general manager, especially if it thinks there’s been some tampering during the season.

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On Monday, The Inquirer reported the Sixers are all-in on acquiring Harden even if it means prolonging Simmons’ time with the Sixers. The report addressed Morey’s affinity for Harden. Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin also maintains a close relationship with Harden and his friends. In fact, Bleacher Report published a report that Harden is unhappy living in Brooklyn and has become excited about free agency.

The problem is, the Sixers, as currently constructed, don’t have the cap space available to lure him in free agency. And right now, Simmons doesn’t want to play in Philly. So a trade at this time would only benefit the Sixers, who would be replacing a player who refused to play for them this season, in the second year of his five-year contract.

To be honest, there are not a lot of teams that can afford Harden’s salary. And the franchises that can aren’t exactly a good landing spot for someone of his stature.

The 2018 league MVP can opt-in to his $47.4 million contract for next season and sign a four-year, $223 million extension with Brooklyn at the start of free agency.

But let’s talk about the first option.

Even though Harden reportedly wants out, it doesn’t make sense for the Nets to move him before the trade deadline, especially not for Simmons.

Brooklyn headed into Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at 29-17 and a half-game behind first-place Miami in the Eastern Conference standings. Harden is the most dependable player of the Nets’ Big Three,which also includes Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

The unvaccinated Irving is able to play only in games outside of New York after missing the first 35 games of the season. Meanwhile, Durant is sidelined at least a month after suffering a knee sprain against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 15.

So it doesn’t make sense for a contender like Brooklyn to trade Harden when one cornerstone can only play on the road and another one is sidelined. Plus, the Nets want to get out of the East and win an NBA championship, and it wouldn’t make sense to strengthen a fellow Eastern contender.

What about acquiring him as an unrestricted free agent, you ask?

The Sixers would need to shed $78 million in order to offer Harden $47 million. That would involve trading Tobias Harris (who’s scheduled to make $37.6M next season) and Simmons ($35.4M) and basically take very little back in expiring contracts and draft picks, among other things. It’s going to be tough to get that far under the cap.

So the best option would be a sign-and-trade involving Simmons this summer. Like a regular trade, the Sixers and Nets could get a third team involved to help make a deal for all parties. But Brooklyn doesn’t have to make the sign-and-trade if it wants to hold onto Harden.

One has to assume their chances to re-sign Harden will go up if he can’t go to the Sixers or another elite team. He wouldn’t have many positive options of the teams with available cap space. The San Antonio Spurs ($41.9M), Detroit Pistons ($39.3M), Orlando Magic ($34.9M), Oklahoma City Thunder ($22.9M), and Memphis Grizzlies ($21.7M) are the only teams projected to have more than $21 million in cap space next season.

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The Grizzlies are a solid squad, but I’m not sure Memphis is a destination that Harden would be happy with because it already has a ball-dominant guard in Ja Morant. And the Magic, Spurs, Pistons, and Thunder aren’t exactly prime destinations at this time, so those landing spots wouldn’t make a lot of sense for Harden.

It would only make sense for the Nets to do a sign-and-trade if they think they’ll lose him without getting anything back. But unless things change, Harden, who’s making $44.3 million, would take a substantial pay decrease by leaving Brooklyn.

He turned down the Rockets’ two-year, $103 million offer for a contract extension in 2020 because of his desire to be traded to the Nets. So he’s not afraid to take a lower salary.

But will he take substantially less to play for an undesirable place if Brooklyn is unwilling to do a sign-and-trade?