CLEVELAND — NBA teams suspected the 76ers were tampering in their pursuit of James Harden before acquiring him from the Brooklyn Nets in a trade on Feb. 10.
“There is no ongoing investigation, right now,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday night.
Very few league executives — if any — were surprised that the Sixers acquired Harden. The belief, however, was it would come as a forced sign-and-trade this summer.
The beliefs were based off Harden’s close relationship with Sixers’ president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, co-owner Michael Rubin, and CEO Tad Brown. That’s where the tampering concerns arose.
NBA teams feared that Rubin was putting things in place for a forced summer S&T deal through back channels. Teams thought that’s why the Sixers appeared to be content with waiting until the offseason to deal disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons.
People close to the Sixers denied the team was holding out for Harden or that they were concerned about any potential tampering allegations.
As it turned out, Harden, who wanted to be traded to the Sixers, forced his way out of Brooklyn. That led to the Nets shipping him and Paul Millsap to the Sixers in exchange for Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks.
“I think around the league this so-called notion of player empowerment is not a new issue … ,” Silver said. “As I said before, we want players and teams to honor contracts. So I think, in this case, you had two teams that ultimately seem satisfied by the outcome of the trade and willingly entered into it.”
The commissioner acknowledged there are improvements that need to be made to the system. He wants to find a balance of players having a say where they play while ensuring teams are in a position to remain competitive and have contracts honored.
Simmons refused to play for the Sixers this season despite being in the second year of a $177 million contract extension.
“No team has logged a formal complaint with the league,” Silver said. “These are things we watch play out, unfortunately, in many cases, in the media.”
He said the league will continue to look into the situation, but there’s “nothing immediate, right now.”
This marked the second time in 14 months that Harden has forced a trade. Back on Jan. 13, 2021, he forced a trade from the Houston Rockets to the Nets. Meanwhile, Simmons told the Sixers in August that he wanted to be traded and wouldn’t play for them this season.
“In the case of Ben Simmons, I can’t think of a change to the system that to the extent [when] you have a player that is willing to sit out and not be paid, which is the scenario we have right now,” Silver said. “I don’t want to speak for Ben, but that was the posture. We saw the case of a player saying, ‘I’m unhappy in the city, and I’m not going to play.’ Then a team saying, ‘We are not going to pay you, and there’s going to be discipline.’ There was a stalemate and ultimately he got traded.
“I don’t want to pretend standing here that I have some secret idea that I know I can fix that problem.”