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How Sixers Could Tempt Nets Into Dealing James Harden Ahead Of NBA Trade Deadline

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at February 5, 2022

The Philadelphia 76ers might not have to wait until the summer to acquire Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden.

On Friday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the Sixers were “expected to pursue Harden in the coming days, and the Nets are believed to be open to discussing such a deal.” He noted the Nets believe their current core “has the means necessary for a championship,” but they’re willing to listen to offers that “elevate the team and make the roster more well-rounded as the franchise pursues a championship.”

Harden can become a free agent this summer by declining his $47.4 million player option for next season, and there’s been no shortage of rumors linking him with the Sixers in recent weeks. Although they’re still considered the title favorites for now, the Nets might prefer to rip the Band-Aid off and trade Harden by the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline, hoping to use whatever leverage they have to extract more from the Sixers.

The Sixers will have to throw in something else aside from Simmons just to make the trade cap-legal. With Harden earning $44.3 million this season, the Sixers have to send out at least roughly $35.4 million in salary. Simmons alone ($33.0 million) won’t cut it, but combining him with Tyrese Maxey ($2.6 million), Matisse Thybulle ($2.8 million) or any of their other higher-paid players would do.

The Nets might also look to trim their luxury-tax bill if they do trade Harden. They’re currently $35.3 million over the tax line, per Spotrac, which will result in a tax bill of $110.4 million. Even shedding $10 million in salary would help them cut their tax bill by more than $40 million.

With that in mind, here are three possible frameworks for the two sides to discuss in the coming days.

Trade 1: The Maxey Package

This may be the Nets’ dream scenario, but it’s likely a non-starter for the Sixers.

Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice reported Friday that the Sixers aren’t “actively shopping or even discussing players like Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle in trade conversations with other teams, shooting down their inclusion in all of the deals that have been presented to them thus far.” He did say they’d be “willing to entertain the possibility of moving anyone and everyone” outside of MVP candidate Joel Embiid “should the right deal present itself,” but it’s fair to wonder whether this particular scenario fits into that bucket.

If the Nets and Sixers can’t agree to terms by the trade deadline, the Sixers could always fall back on the possibility of a sign-and-trade or opt-in-and-trade for Harden this summer. They’d need the Nets to agree to either scenario—which is no sure thing given the potential bad blood between these two franchises—but the Sixers might prefer to take that risk over trading Maxey.

“If Harden is in danger of actively sabotaging what the Nets want to build, as Charania reports here, the Sixers don’t believe they should have to give up more than a multi-time All-Star in Simmons to get a deal done before February 10th,” Neubeck wrote Friday afternoon in the wake of Charania’s report.

It’s easy to see why the Nets would want Maxey. He’s taken an enormous leap forward in his second season, averaging 16.9 points on 47.2 percent shooting (including 39.9 percent from deep), 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds. The 21-year-old jitterbug is also on a dirt-cheap rookie-scale contract for two more years beyond this one, which would be key for a Nets team with three max players in Durant, Irving and Simmons.

If the Sixers draw the line at Maxey’s inclusion, there may still be other ways to incentivize the Nets’ cooperation ahead of the deadline.

Trade 2: Rounding Out the Nets’ Rotation

Even if Maxey is off-limits, the Sixers have plenty of other rotation players who should intrigue the depleted Nets.

Durant is out through at least the All-Star break with an MCL injury, and Irving can only play in road games until he gets a Covid-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, Joe Harris hasn’t played since late November because of an ankle injury that required surgery, and his agent recently told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he might need a second procedure.

Harris told reporters Friday that he’s “confident” that he’ll be able to return at some point this season, but the Nets might not have the luxury of waiting. Losers of seven straight games, they’ve now plunged to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they’re only 1.5 games up on the ninth-seeded Charlotte Hornets.

If the Nets can’t bank on Harris’ return this season, they could effectively swap one superstar for an All-Star and two starter-level rotation players.

Seth Curry is averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game for the Sixers this year, and he’s a career 43.8 percent shooter from deep, which is almost identical to Harris’ career mark (43.9 percent). Danny Green has lost a step at the age of 34, but the three-time champion is still a plug-and-play three-and-D wing who would slot in nicely alongside Durant, Irving, Curry and Simmons in small-ball lineups.

This trade would also trim $12.1 million in salary for the Nets, which would drop their tax bill from $110.4 million to a far more manageable $56.9 million. The Sixers’ tax bill would jump from roughly $7.6 million (after accounting for the George Hill set-off) to nearly $36 million, but that may be the price of business to ensure they don’t waste an MVP-caliber season from Embiid.

Trade 3: Trimming the Nets’ Tax Bill

If the Sixers aren’t willing to give up Curry and/or Green, they could still help the Nets trim some salary from their books in a Harden deal.

In late January, Charania reported the Nets and Paul Millsap “have agreed” to find him “a new team where he can have a greater contribution.” The four-time All-Star averaged only 11.8 minutes for Brooklyn across 24 games this season, and he’s played in only three games since mid-December.

In exchange for Harden, Millsap and Jevon Carter—a third-string point guard who’d become an unnecessary luxury upon Simmons’ arrival—the Sixers could send back Simmons, Furkan Korkmaz and Paul Reed. In doing so, they’d help the Nets shed nearly $10.5 million in salary and drop their tax bill to roughly $63.1 million.

Korkmaz is shooting a career-low 28.8 percent from deep this year, but he’d have a chance to bounce back in Brooklyn as a catch-and-shoot threat alongside Simmons, Irving and Durant. He can also operate as a ball-handler in a pinch, particularly so long as Irving can’t participate in home games.

Reed is the reigning G League MVP, although he hasn’t done much of note in the NBA yet. His $1.8 million salary for next season is fully non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him this offseason if needed to free up a roster spot.

The Sixers could sweeten any of these frameworks with additional draft compensation. They have all of their own first-round picks other than a lightly protected 2025 first-rounder that they owe to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’s clear that the Sixers are willing to trade Simmons for Harden, and it seems as though the Nets are at least willing to listen. The main question is whether the Sixers can sweeten the pot enough—whether with win-now players, draft picks and/or tax savings—to convince the Nets to pull the trigger now instead of waiting to rekindle these talks until the summer.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac.

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