Sixers Could Replace James Harden With Damian Lillard Next Year: Insider

James Harden Damian Lillard

Getty James Harden looks to make a move against Damian Lillard.

The Philadelphia 76ers could see a drastically different team hitting the floor next season if they fail to make a deep playoff run this year, with one insider predicting the team could lose James Harden and make a blockbuster trade to replace him.

In an appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, NBA analyst Nick Wright said the Sixers are facing quite a bit of pressure as the playoffs start. Though the Sixers were able to secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and have a runaway MVP favorite in Joel Embiid, Wright said their past failures to reach the conference finals could lead to some major changes in the offseason if they once again fail to get over the hump.

Insider Predicts Blockbuster Trade if Sixers Fall in Playoffs

Though Wright noted that the Boston Celtics are facing some internal tensions with Jaylen Brown expressing some unhappiness, he believes the Sixers are facing an even more tenuous situation. There are rumors that James Harden could be interested in a return to the Houston Rockets this offseason, which could come to pass if the Sixers again fall short in the playoffs, Wright said.

Should that happen, Wright believes the Sixers will try to swing a trade for Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard to reload for next season.

“The most pressure in the East is on Philly because they’ve never been to a Conference Finals, let alone a Finals, and there are those odd murmurs that James Harden might leave and go back to Houston,” Wright said. He added, “If they flame out in the postseason, it could be a tough offseason for Philadelphia. I’m sure they would try to trade for Dame and remake the team that way.”

There have been growing rumors surrounding Harden’s future in Philadelphia since ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on December 25 that he was interested in returning to his former team. Harden has taken some steps suggesting an exit in free agency, with The Athletic’s Shams Charania reporting in February that Harden hired his first full-time agent since 2017.

Conflicting Reports on Damian Lillard’s Future

While Wright believes the Sixers could make a run at Lillard if they fall short in the playoffs this season, other insiders don’t see the Blazers parting with their star guard. The Athletic’s Jason Quick reported that the Blazers’ front office is considering a trade to build around Lillard.

“About the only clarity in the Blazers’ path forward is this: The Blazers will likely trade their lottery pick unless they land the No. 1 pick (they have a 10.5 percent chance), which would give them the right to draft who many are calling a generational star in French big man Victor Wembanyama,” Quick reported. “Lillard all but etched in stone the trade-the-pick path Sunday when he said he did not want the Blazers to draft another young player. He said he wants proven veterans who can help now, not players who will need two to three years to develop.”

Lillard has also expressed a desire to win with the Blazers and taken shots at players who have jumped from team to team in search of a title — mentioning Harden by name in statements made in February.