As Kyrie Irving's vaccination status continues to unravel the Brooklyn Nets, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith says Irving may not be the only star guard not long for Brooklyn.
"Now you might lose James Harden because Daryl Morey is lurking in Philadelphia. Don't think for one second that Daryl Morey ain't trying to get his hands on James Harden. I'm telling you what I know," Smith said Tuesday on First Take.
Harden can become a free agent after the 2021-22 season, and in an interview with ESPN's Malika Andrews expressed an interest in testing free agency for the first time in his career.
"You know, I think over the course of my career I've never been a free agent before, so I've always just been loyal and just signed it, you know, the contract extension," Harden told Andrews. "Just being there, being there, being there. I just want to take my time with it. It would be very, very difficult to leave here, or to even leave Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving.
"But I think this season I just want to focus on winning the championship and everything else will work itself out.”
The idea of Harden reuniting with Morey in Philadelphia seems a little farfetched. The Sixers heavily pursued Harden when he requested a trade from Houston last season. It was well-known that Harden wanted to wind up in Brooklyn, ostensibly choosing the Nets over the Sixers.
The ongoing controversy surrounding Irving, his vaccination status and the impact it may have on the Nets' title chances could lead to Harden wanting a new situation, but it's difficult to find an avenue into him being in a Sixers uniform. The Nets almost certainly aren't going to trade him this season, which would mean he'd have to leave in free agency—and likely do so in a sign-and-trade.
Teams that complete a sign-and-trade for a player are automatically hard-capped, meaning they cannot go over the tax apron for that season. The Sixers are a tax team for the 2021-22 season and would have a difficult time getting under the apron while adding Harden's salary for 2022-23 without gutting their roster.
Ben Simmons is a natural trade candidate, but this scenario would involve the Sixers retaining their disgruntled point guard for the entire 2021-22 campaign and adding salary and assets in a deal with the Nets to add Harden.
There are way too many components up in the air for this to feel like a realistic scenario.