NBA front-office executives are reportedly prepared to ask the league to investigate potential collusion if Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden lands with the Philadelphia 76ers on a sign-and-trade deal this summer.
"Some front-office executives are prepared to ... when the time comes, if a deal does look like [it's] about to transpire where there could be some potential sign-and-trade in the offseason. ... They're prepared to get the league involved on a potential collusion case dating back to what they believe could be going on right now—you know, as to why we're probably hearing a lot of Philadelphia, James Harden talk. I was told there will be complaints issued to the league [to] try to investigate to see if there was any collusion."
Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported Monday the Sixers have struggled to find what they're seeking in a potential Ben Simmons blockbuster leading up to the Feb. 10 trade deadline, so they're leaning toward keeping the point guard until the offseason.
His five-year, $177.2 million contract could prove valuable in any sign-and-trade talks for Harden, and Philadelphia president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has the "full support of ownership" to wait until summer to work through the Simmons situation, per Charania and Amick.
The Athletic report also noted Morey, who previously forged a strong relationship with Harden during their time together with the Houston Rockets, has "some optimism" about a possible reunion.
Clearly, other executives around the NBA aren't as eager to see the nine-time All-Star in the same lineup as MVP candidate Joel Embiid, and they may look to the league to prevent it.
Between the Morey connection and the Rubin friendship, rival front offices are starting to wonder whether there's any behind-the-scenes plans already being laid, per Haynes:
"There's another player we're going to add to this dynamic: Michael Rubin. For those who don't know, the Sixers co-owner is very, very, very good friends with James Harden. And I've been talking to a rival owner, talking to rival front-office executives, who believe that there can be some talk going on now between both sides."
Although proving collusion can often be difficult, especially when it involves people like Harden, Morey and Rubin who are friends beyond the basketball realm, the league has been trying to crack down on it in recent years.
In December, the NBA docked the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat each a second-round draft pick for early contact leading to deals with Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry, respectively.
Their contracts with those teams weren't affected, however, and it's unclear if a second-round selection is enough deterrent to prevent similar actions in the future.
Barring a late push by another team to land Simmons before the deadline or a Harden extension with Brooklyn, the Sixers will probably emerge as the favorite for the Nets guard in the offseason.