Deadline Week Intel: Latest Buzz on Potential Ben Simmons-James Harden Trade

Jake Fischer@JakeLFischerContributor IFebruary 7, 2022

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) yells to forward James Johnson (16) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/José Luis Villegas)
José Luis Villegas/Associated Press

A lot has happened in Brooklyn this week, and yet nothing has happened. 

As Nets head coach Steve Nash emphatically told reporters Sunday, Brooklyn leadership has shown zero inclination to move James Harden prior to Thursday's trade deadline—for Ben Simmons or any rival package. 

Neither the Philadelphia 76ers nor any team have even contacted the Nets front office regarding a Harden blockbuster, sources told B/R. There have been no negotiations, no offers, not even a framework discussed. 

Some Brooklyn figures have openly mentioned their interest in swapping Harden for Simmons, sources said. Harden's recent bout of hamstring tightness—which has kept him inactive for four of the Nets' last six games—has coincided with reports of his looming offseason plans and caught the attention of Brooklyn personnel and players alike. Nash added Sunday that an MRI showed nothing serious and classified Harden as "day-to-day."

Yet league sources confirmed the Nets have no plans to discuss Harden trade scenarios ahead of Thursday's 3 p.m. ET buzzer. The team believes in its impressive title chances when its roster is at full strength. 

Brooklyn officials maintain that Harden has not voiced any desire to play elsewhere despite word of the All-Star guard's openness to test free agency having circled around the league. 

Any Simmons trade remains unlikely before the deadline. Philadelphia brass have long stood committed to waiting for a player of Harden or Bradley Beal's caliber to become available, and each dynamic scorer has at least signaled the possibility he may depart his current situation in the near future. Portland's salary-shedding trade with Los Angeles on Friday sparked hope among rival executives that Damian Lillard may once again consider a new home this summer as well. 

No potential package from Atlanta or Sacramento, or any other team that has engaged Philadelphia since the offseason, has generated significant traction in trade conversations while the Sixers are holding out for someone on their wishlist.

As the deadline nears, Philadelphia brass are instead expected to focus on marginal improvements to their roster around MVP front-runner Joel Embiid. Philadelphia has clear needs for supplementary ball-handling and rebounding—two of the largest holes created by Simmons' season-long absence. Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe are the 76ers players most often mentioned as trade candidates by rival executives. 

The prospect of Simmons' potential return will then take center stage after Thursday's theatrics come to a close. Sixers brass have consistently messaged an optimism that Simmons may be willing to rejoin Philadelphia if a deal doesn't materialize before the deadline.

Numerous figures affiliated with Simmons' representation insist he'll never dress for the franchise again, but there are people around Simmons who have recently pushed for the All-Star to retake the floor if he's not dealt, sources said.

While Tobias Harris' name emerged in trade conversations with the Kings and Hawks, the Sixers have engaged in little further dialogue about moving the veteran forward, sources said. But a Harris trade could still be on the horizon this summer as Philadelphia continues its pursuit of a new All-Star partner for Embiid.

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

There are several pathways in which the Sixers could acquire Harden or Beal, for example, in addition to the popular sign-and-trade concept discussed around the league pertaining to Harden. If Harden or Beal ultimately communicates a desire to join Philadelphia, both stand to gain a far greater salary by opting into the final years of their contracts and then being dealt to the 76ers.

But if the cleanest dynamic requires Philadelphia to create cap space to sign a star outright in free agency, multiple league sources have mentioned the possibility of a Sixers trade with the Thunder to move Harris into Oklahoma City's bounty of cap space.

Philadelphia already owes its top-six protected 2025 first-round pick to the Thunder. The Sixers could remove those protections and offer additional draft capital now that Oklahoma City’s $9.6 million trade exception from a previous Trevor Ariza trade expired and the Thunder have $33.7 million in cap room.

No significant conversations have yet occurred between the Sixers and Thunder, according to one source with knowledge of the situation, but the deal structure was mentioned to B/R by several salary-cap experts around the league. It remains to be seen how much financial wiggle room Oklahoma will have following the trade deadline.