Where Do The Sixers Draw The Line In A Harden Trade?
If the stars are lining up to make Harden available now, the Sixers have every reason to pounce on the opportunity.
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Last week, the longstanding rumors of the Sixers pursuit of James Harden received a massive jolt in the form of a Shams Charania report that the Nets are “believed to be open to discussing a deal” involving Harden ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. For months now, the rumors have been that the Sixers would be targeting Harden in the offseason, but we now know that the Sixers not only will be pursuing him ahead of the deadline, but that the Nets are open to discussions.
With these negotiations ongoing, I thought it would be apt to discuss just how much the Sixers should be willing to give up, and whether certain players are worth including in the deal. Let’s begin.
First, let’s look at what exactly Harden’s value is. Trading for him is obviously something the Sixers should try to do, but everything about it scares me just a little. He’s 32, has a ton of mileage, and has spent the last 15 months banged up and in poor shape. He’s currently posting his lowest scoring output and his worst true shooting percentage in 10 seasons, and if you trade for him, one would assume that you’re going to give him a max contract this offseason that would take him through his age 37 season.
Harden also has a long history of underwhelming playoff performances, and has generally been a tough player to play with; if he’s unhappy with Irving and Durant (or vice versa), this will be his 4th consecutive superstar partnership to end in a salty breakup – along with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook before them.
Stylistically, I don’t love the idea of him turning this Sixers team into a “stand around and watch me dribble” offense, and I also worry about his willingness to play off of Embiid – spacing the floor around an Embiid post-up requires a desire to move and react quickly off the ball, as well as be willing to shoot plenty of catch and shoot 3s. Harden has always been underwhelming in both of those categories. All things considered, I don’t think it’s a problematic partnership, but I do have concerns that Harden’s off-ball apathy could be a source of frustration for Embiid.
Mix together all of these concerns, and I’m not salivating at the idea of liquidating every asset from now until the end of time to get Harden, as I may have been a year ago. I’d be willing to give up a big haul – All-NBA level players just don’t become available often – but I think it’s completely reasonable to take Tyrese Maxey off the table in these negotiations. Throwing in an ascending, potential star guard who is under several years of team control in addition to Simmons in order to get a declining 32-year-old pending free agent is not something smart teams do.
A fair place to start the negotiations is where we left off approximately a year ago, with the package that the Sixers were then offering to the Rockets in exchange for Harden – something in the realm of Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and two first round picks. Both Simmons and Harden have seen their respective values go down since then (Simmons moreso), but the framework is still fair.
Thybulle hasn’t exactly ascended since then, but I think the Sixers may be even more hesitant to give him up primarily because of their thin wing rotation and lack of perimeter defense this year. While it feels asinine to say that the Sixers shouldn’t give up either of their two best young players (sans Simmons) in order to get Harden, it feels unlikely that either could be involved, for varying reasons.
It also is relevant that the Nets, unlike the Rockets a year ago, are looking to contend now. Veteran talent could be more enticing to them, and that’s where the Sixers could open up the possibilities. It feels likely to me that Seth Curry would be involved given his value, the Nets’ need for shooting, and the fact that he’d become less necessary to the Sixers if they were to acquire Harden. I’m sure Sixers fans would like to include Danny Green instead of Curry, but that simply doesn’t feel like enough value to me; Green is just about cooked defensively, and adds merely a fraction of the offensive value that Curry does. I can’t see the Nets being enthused about him.
Beyond Curry, I could see Shake Milton as another add-on, given that he’s the only other young Sixer who’s proven he can stick in a rotation. With Kyrie Irving’s uncertainty, the Nets surely could use another capable guard.
At that point, it feels apt that the Sixers should have to include a few draft picks on top of Simmons, Curry, and Milton. An unprotected pick this season, as well as a lottery-protected pick in 2027, and a second round pick in 2023 feels about right.
If that feels like too much, remember that this is still James Harden we’re talking about, and if you punt on trading for him now, you not only punt on a year of peak Joel Embiid, you also wander further into the wilderness on a Simmons trade, with no guarantee that things won’t course correct in Brooklyn after a deep playoff run, thus taking Harden off the table.
The reality is that both sides carry tremendous risk and uncertainty here. The range of opinions on Simmons and Harden are as wide as any two players in the league; some say Harden is will soon be a Russell Westbrook-type albatross, and others wonder if Simmons will ever be able to contribute to winning basketball in the playoffs.
There are many complicated factors to consider in this trade, but it’s one that I think makes sense for both teams. If the Nets have soured on Harden (or vice versa), getting Simmons, two quality role players, and three picks is well worth it. If the Sixers can’t pry away a superstar with less baggage, this trade is well worth it. Going into the playoffs with a Maxey-Harden-Thybulle-Harris-Embiid starting lineup gives you the chance to beat anyone.
Daryl Morey’s philosophy has always been to acquire top-level talent and figure out the issues later. Harden would certainly provide that type of talent, and while I have my questions and concerns, I do like the chances of Embiid, Harden, and Maxey forming the backbone of a contender for years to come. Aside from taking Maxey and Thybulle off the table, I wouldn’t be overly greedy about what to include in this trade. If it takes three first round picks instead of two, so be it. If Jaden Springer has to be thrown in, so be it. Simmons is going to get traded eventually, and I’d rather not wait to hold out hope that Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal – both of whom carry their own issues – will demand out this summer. If the stars are lining up to make Harden available now, the Sixers have every reason to pounce on the opportunity.