Report: 76ers Thought They Had James Harden Trade, Rockets Never Called Back

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 17, 2021

Andrew D. Bernstein

Ghosting is typically behavior limited to adolescent relationships. That said, it apparently happens in NBA trade talks sometimes as well.

Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Houston Rockets never called the Philadelphia 76ers back with a counteroffer last week when they were deep in negotiations for a James Harden trade. The ball had gotten rolling to the point both Ben Simmons and Mattisse Thybulle were informed by their agents to expect a trade.

Instead, the Rockets "played" the Sixers to seemingly extract the best possible offer from the Brooklyn Nets. Houston ultimately acquired a bounty that included four first-round picks, four pick swaps, Victor Oladipo and Dante Exum as part of a four-team blockbuster that also included the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was reportedly motivated to avoid trading Harden to Philadelphia because he did not want to reunite Harden with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey. The Sixers basketball czar previously spent more than a decade as the Rockets' general manager and left amid an exodus that included coach Mike D'Antoni choosing to not return and Russell Westbrook requesting a trade. 

Harden and Morey shared a good relationship, and the GM's departure seemingly played a part in the 2018 NBA MVP's desire to also force a trade. When asked whether he would still be in Houston if Morey stayed, Harden told reporters it was a "good question" before not elaborating further.

Pompey's report says the Sixers believed their deal to land Harden was "done" before being shocked as Houston worked to send him to Brooklyn, his long-preferred destination.

In terms of individual talent, the Rockets could not have done better than Simmons, an All-NBA, All-Defensive stud who is one of the best two-way players in the sport. However, he's an awkward basketball fit with John Wall and may not fit what appears to be a plan to fully rebuild in the post-Harden age.

Adding Simmons would create a demand to immediately begin acquiring players to surround him with that would accentuate his talents. Instead, the Rockets chose to compile a war chest of draft assets while building a roster that makes more immediate basketball sense. 

While it's hard to see any of those Brooklyn draft picks amounting to a player of Simmons' caliber anytime soon, there's an understandable logic to the direction Houston went. Getting one over on the Sixers was likely just an added benefit.