The Ben Simmons–Philadelphia 76ers saga looks like it’s finally nearing an end… or is it?
On Friday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania stunned the basketball world by reporting the 76ers are going after James Harden in trade a package centred around Simmons ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline on Thursday, despite previously intending to chase him in free agency.
Charania said the Brooklyn Nets are open to discussion, which contradicts previous reporting by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that they would shun any trade deadline offers for the 32-year-old superstar. According to Wojnarowski, Harden was “committed to staying and winning a championship with the franchise.”
In a pre-game press conference Sunday afternoon, Nets head coach Steve Nash denied there were plans to trade Harden.
“I’ve talked to James, he wants to be here,” said Nash. “He wants to be here long-term as well, so I don’t think anything’s changed other than noise from the outside. James wants to be here, we’re building with James and we think we have the best chance to win with James.”
Simmons has been surrounded by trade chatter since demanding out of Philadelphia this off-season, with John Collins, Jerami Grant and De’Aaron Fox rumoured in deals. But 76ers president Darryl Morey remains steadfast in holding out for a “difference-maker” even if it means waiting into the off-season – a bold move for a title-contending, Joel Embiid-centred Philadelphia team. But now, despite denials, Morey could be one step closer to getting his man.
It’s fitting, really. The seeds for Simmons’s displeasure in Philadelphia were planted when Morey used him as a key piece to nearly acquire Harden from the Houston Rockets over a year ago. Now here we are again, with both players the subject of a potential trade as a product of it.
You don’t often see championship-calibre rivals exchange star players, but if this blockbuster trade does happen, and it’s still an if, it could fill needs for both sides. Morey hopes to maximize Embiid’s potentially scarce prime years and Harden’s skillset complements the big man far more than Simmons ever could.
Brooklyn is currently mired in an eight-game losing streak and has growing concerns about both Harden’s decline and his stagnation on offence, according to Charania – something that doesn’t meld with the free-flowing styles of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Harden could also walk to another team for nothing in free agency this off-season. He chose not to sign an extension with the Nets earlier this season. Harden has also shown particular disinterest on the court as of late and is currently sidelined with a hamstring issue.
The Nets still believe their current core can deliver a championship, but Charania says “an opening exists should an offer elevate the team and make the roster more well-rounded.” In a deal that could include sweeteners such as Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle coming from the 76ers, consider some of those criteria met.
It’s by far the biggest and most anticipated storyline entering the trade deadline, but by no means the only thing to keep an eye on. Here’s a look at other rumours circulating in the NBA:
Wizards looking to ‘strengthen the cast’ around Beal
Bradley Beal and trade rumours fit like a glove at this point, but every time it looks like he might be headed out of Washington, the Wizards double-down on building around him despite being trapped in mediocrity.
The Wizards, who’ve tumbled down to 11th in the Eastern Conference after a promising start, will hold a fire sale at the deadline. Montrezl Harrell, Thomas Bryant and Spencer Dinwiddie are all available, according to independent NBA Insider Marc Stein.
Stein says that Beal, who has a player option for next season, is “highly unlikely” to be discussed in trade talks before the deadline. Instead, Washington is looking towards adding pieces and convincing him to stay. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer says the Wizards are eyeing Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis.
In exchange for Sabonis, the Pacers are looking for a Nikola Vucevic-sized package: A prospect, player and two first-round picks, according to Fischer. Washington has pieces like Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert to offer, and the contract of either Bryant or Harrell to make the money work.
The Pacers have already traded Caris LeVert, and finally splitting up Sabonis and Miles Turner could be their next move as the team re-tools.
Conflicting reports in Sac-Town
The Sacramento Kings have long been rumoured as one of Simmons’s potential suitors, with pieces like Fox and Tyrese Haliburton to offer. Those rumours took a hit when Charania reported in mid-January that the Kings did not plan on trading either, with the intention of instead using them as building blocks. Wojnarowski then reported last week that Sacramento pulled out of trade talks for Simmons.
But the latest from Stein is that the Kings are failing to convince teams they want to build around their backcourt duo, with Fox believed to be available. Should a Harden trade not come to fruition, Fox-plus-assets could be a package that entices the 76ers.
The Kings could also deal wings Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield to playoff-bound teams, while 2018 second-overall pick Marvin Bagley could be due for a change of scenery.
Blazers plan to reshape roster around Lillard
The Portland Trail Blazers completed the first big deal of the deadline, shipping Robert Covington and Norman Powell to the Los Angeles Clippers for what felt like pennies on the dollar to free up cap space.
It’s blow-it-up time in Portland. CJ McCollum could be gone, as could Jusuf Nurkic. But Portland plans to reshape its roster around face of the franchise Damian Lillard, who’s out for an extended period of time due to an abdominal injury, alongside emerging guard Anfernee Simons, per Wojnarowski.
Several playoff teams pursuing Jerami Grant
This one is hardly a surprise, as the report from Charania has been out there awhile, but it’s still one of the key storylines to watch as Grant is a coveted player in this league. His ability to shoot the three-ball and defend wings on the other end compliments star players well.
The problem? Grant has gotten used to being in a starring role with the Pistons, the price to acquire him will be steep, and he has one year beyond this season left on his deal. Whoever trades for him has to be willing to pay up on his next extension.
John Collins likely staying in Atlanta past deadline
Another trade piece for Simmons is off the board, for now. Collins has been discussed in a number of trades, according to Stein, but the Hawks are now pushing for a trade in the off-season after the team has gone 8-4 and rerouted its 2021-22 campaign since trading Cam Reddish.
• The Raptors actively gauging the return for Goran Dragic if they attach future assets to a trade, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange.
• The San Antonio Spurs are looking for a first-round pick and a “quality player” in return for Jakub Poetl, Stein reports. The Raptors and Hawks are interested.
• The New Orleans Pelicans are “aggressively” pursuing a guard or perimeter scorer, including Portland’s McCollum, Sacramento’s Fox and Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
• Orlando Magic wings Terrence Ross and Gary Harris are available for trade, teams are interested in centre Robin Lopez as well, per Stein.