According to Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic, there is belief within NBA circles that Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey intends to wait until the summer to trade disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons in hopes of landing Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden.
That comes after NBA insider Marc Stein reported last week that there was buzz indicating that Harden would be willing to relocate this summer. This comes months after Harden declined a three-year, $161 million extension. But, it's important to note that Harden likely did that because he's eligible for a 4-year, $227 million extension in June.
Of course, Morey's career has been defined by trading for James Harden when it was apparent the Oklahoma City Thunder weren't going to pay him. After departing Houston two offseasons ago, Morey attempted to re-acquire the disgruntled Harden from the Rockets. Philadelphia and Brooklyn were the two teams Harden desired, and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta sent him to the Nets.
But, Harden - be it because of age, wear and tear, or fit - has not enjoyed the same stardom he exhibited in Houston.
And following Charania's report, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer published a report of his own. "But sources said Harden would welcome playing with Embiid," Pompey wrote.
"The guard had a lot of individual success playing for Morey as a Rocket. Sources say Harden believes he could have similar success playing alongside Embiid."
Pompey then wrapped up his report with quite the firework: "'The reigning thought process throughout the league is Harden will be a Sixer next season,' a source said."
Such a series of reports rightfully sends a shiver down the spines of the Brooklyn faithful. There are a few topics to which attention should be paid.
First, Harden could pick up the $47,366,760 Player Option available to him this offseason. But even if he did that, Brooklyn wouldn't necessarily be out of the woods. Harden could opt in with the intention of requesting a trade, get to Philly, and then sign a four-year extension months later.
Besides having the allure of playing with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (when available), New York is a bigger market than Philadelphia. Beyond that, the Nets can offer Harden a 5-year deal worth approximately $269,853,016. The most the Sixers could do is four years, approximately $200,063,443.
But perhaps the catalyst of all of this buzz is something that Brooklyn's management cannot control. Harden ostensibly wants to win a championship. Meanwhile, one of the players with whom he wanted to team up is a part-time player as long as he refuses to get vaccinated. If Kyrie Irving continues to refuse vaccination, that lack of dedication to winning a title might alienate Harden.
It's not as easy as trading Irving, either. Durant joined the Nets to team up with Irving. It's hard to conceive a scenario where he would be on board with moving his close friend. It's even more unlikely that Irving would fetch trade value in line with what he's worth on the basketball court. Beyond that, the noticeable regression from his norm could be a byproduct of trying to fit a role in which Harden is not comfortable.
In Philadelphia, Harden would be teaming up with core players who ostensibly share his hunger to win (seeing as they've never won, either). He would also be the unquestioned perimeter alpha dog in Philadelphia's offense, a role most similar to the one he knew in his Houston years.
Beyond that, familiarity could be at play. At one point in time, Harden considered Tad Brown, the now CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, "kind of like a father". And Pompey's report mentioned that Harden's side still has a strong relationship with Morey and is a friend of Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin.
The Nets' biggest concern should be Philadelphia allowing the February 10 trade deadline to pass without moving Simmons. Not only does that give them the cap figure needed to execute a sign-and-trade for Harden without having to jump through too many hoops, but it also shows faith from Philadelphia's brass that Harden has a desire to join the team.
If Harden opts for a sign-and-trade specifically to Philadelphia, Brooklyn's hands are tied. Other teams won't have any reason to offer much because the star doesn't want to join them. And if Philadelphia knows Harden won't sign a deal unless it's part of a trade, they have little reason to give up more than what is needed to make the money work. Brooklyn wouldn't have any leverage.
It's hard to argue that Harden cares all that much about public image, given the charade he orchestrated to force his way out of Houston. But, asking for another trade less than two years after driving himself out of Houston would certainly be another hit to that image. For the sake of ease, it also simply makes sense to re-sign with the Nets.
But, where there's smoke, there's fire. And the momentum towards an exit from Brooklyn is growing.