Sixers’ Only James Harden Option Could Be ‘Garbage’ Clippers Trade: Execs

James Harden, Sixers

Getty James Harden, Sixers

When Sixers team president Daryl Morey prepared to take the podium for the 76ers’ media day on Monday, it was already known that there had been no progress on mending fences with the team’s annual offseason headache, this time in the form of disgruntled guard James Harden. Morey attempted to get that out of the way from the get-go.

“He’s not here today,” Morey said. “He continues to seek a trade and we’re working with his representation to resolve that in the best way for the 76ers and hopefully all parties.”

It’s the “all” portion of Morey’s quote that is currently presenting the team with a big problem. “Both” parties in the Harden-Sixers marriage—team and player—want to go their separate ways with a trade. But finding a third party to take the situation from “both” to “all,” a party willing to take Harden back has been nearly impossible.

The one team that has had any substantive talks on Harden has been the Clippers. But, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday, there has been “no traction” on a deal between L.A. and Philly.

That’s been true for more than a month now, and it is not going to change, either. Perhaps it could, though, if Morey changes his standards on Harden. That, at least, is the view from folks around the league, with Harden’s status as an offseason headache clicks over to a training-camp headache.


Ben Simmons Situation, but No Eject Button

The situation bears a resemblance to the situation the Sixers were in two years ago, when star guard Ben Simmons wanted a trade, and there appeared to be no avenue for the Sixers to get fair value for him. But Morey was able to wait out that situation until the following February, when, finally, the pushed the Nets for a trade to Philadelphia, and the Nets complied, taking back Simmons.

But if the lesson Morey took from the Simmons experience is that he can win by waiting, some say, he will be disappointed this time.

“They got lucky with the Simmons thing,” one general manager said. “(Morey) had an eject button with that one, and that button was getting Harden to force his way out of Brooklyn. He had patience in that situation, and that paid off, that was good on him, but there was luck, too. Now, he has already played that hand. I am not sure there is any other hand to play with Harden. He can wait but eventually, it is going to be, where’s the eject button here?”

In the case of Simmons, Morey refused to treat the situation as though he was working from a position of weakness. In this case, he might have no choice.

“No (general manager) is going to go to their owner and say, like, ‘Oh, hey, we’re giving up all these picks and this star player and we’re getting back James Harden, sound good?’” another executive said. “It would be hard enough to say, ‘We’re getting James Harden but look, we’re giving up these bad contracts.’ Even that, it’s too much of a risk for most owners who want nothing to do with the guy.”

Clippers Have Weighed Adding Harden, But With Limited Outgoing Cost

Steve Ballmer of the Clippers is one of the few who would consider taking on Harden, especially because he is already saddled with two stars—Kawhi Leonard and Paul George—who have been huge disappointments since coming to L.A. four years ago.

Despite one of the NBA’s most bloated payrolls, the Clippers have made the conference finals just once in the George-Leonard era, and have made zero Finals appearances. The team needs a jolt, and though Harden could be a disaster with L.A., he will at least push the team to one extreme or another.

And the best the Sixers could hope for in return? Likely Terance Mann.

“(The Clippers) can’t trade a first-rounder until (2028) but they can match up salaries, they can give you Terance Mann—who is a good, versatile player who might really look good playing with Joel Embiid—and throw in a Robert Covington and Marcus Morris,” the GM said. “That’s it. It is hard to see how you could get much more for Harden than that. It’s a garbage-for-garbage deal.”

But there is no indication the Clippers want to make that deal, even if the Sixers did. They still have eyes for former Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon, now awaiting a presumed move out of Portland.  If they get him, the Sixers and Morey might truly be stuck in a rut on Harden.

There are only so many eject buttons, and in this situation, Morey might not have any left.