Weighing An Important Question for Sixers Heading Into Trade Deadline

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Trade rumors continue to swirl as the trade deadline looms just over two weeks away. The Philadelphia 76ers will continue to be the team everyone is watching leading up to the Feb. 10 trade deadline. Will general manager Daryl Morey receive an offer worthy of ending the Ben Simmons saga? Or will it continue past the deadline and into this offseason?

One question rises above all the others: Should Morey make a move to help the team, with Joel Embiid putting together another MVP-caliber year, this season or should he hold all the cards in an effort to hit a home run this offseason and in all probability waste yet another year of Embiid's prime?

Multiple reports came out on Monday pointing in the direction of the Sixers preferring to wait until the offseason to make a trade in the hopes of landing Brooklyn Nets star James Harden. Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported the Sixers would prefer to wait and pursue Harden or another superstar player in a sign-and-trade this offseason.

In their reporting, Charania and Amick dove into further detail on what the Sixers' front office is looking for in return from a Simmons trade and their thought process behind wanting to wait it out into this coming offseason.

"Unless Philadelphia is blown away at the deadline by a team that significantly improves its current best offer, in other words, the standstill between Simmons and the Sixers will continue past the deadline. There’s belief that the offers currently available would be there in the offseason too, but what may not be, if a Simmons deal is completed now, is a shot at a star like Harden. Simmons entered this season with four years and $147 million remaining on his maximum contract.

Sacramento and Atlanta have been among the most engaged recently in talks on Simmons, sources said, but team officials with those organizations doubt the 76ers will lower the price threshold for Simmons before Feb. 10. Between now and Feb. 10, the 76ers will continue taking calls and examining potential framework of offers presented to them. The Charlotte Hornets have been among new teams placing a Simmons inquiry to the 76ers, but there’s been nothing substantive, sources said. In return for Simmons, the 76ers have wanted a top-level All-Star or a package featuring a bevy of first-round draft picks.

For Simmons, the 76ers have asked the Kings for guard Tyrese Haliburton and multiple first-round picks, and asked for a package around John Collins and multiple first-round picks from the Hawks along with Atlanta taking on Tobias Harris, multiple sources tell The Athletic. The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Kings do not plan to move De’Aaron Fox or Haliburton and want to build around them."

There is a ton of interesting information in their report, but by far the most important thing is the Sixers' preference to keep Simmons until the offseason and then use him in a sign-and-trade to get Harden or another superstar player. Morey has a prior history with Harden from their time together on the Houston Rockets, and Harden has previously expressed a willingness to come and play with Embiid in Philadelphia.

Embiid is putting together a MVP-worthy season this year, averaging 28.7 points on 49.8 percent shooting to go with 10.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. The Sixers' ceiling this season, before making a Simmons trade, is limited despite Embiid's best efforts. Many people are of the opinion the Sixers would be wasting another year of Embiid's prime if they hold onto Simmons and effectively handicap themselves this season.

Morey, in an interview last week on 97.5 The Fanatic, explained why he is willing to take the patient approach in order to make sure they get a return which would effectively bring them over the top and make them surefire championship contenders.

"If they [the fans] think we're burning the season away without trading Ben, we are not only burning this season away if we trade Ben away for something that makes everyone feel good, we're also burning away all the future seasons," Morey said. "We're burning way more by doing a marginal trade than if we are patient, we have a solid chance this year and then we also have the ability to win more in the future as well."

It is definitely a calculated risk, with a potential Simmons trade being the team's best opportunity to pair another superstar player with Embiid. However, Embiid has a history of health issues and is it truly the smart decision to waste another year of his prime in an attempt to get Harden?

Harden is not playing quite as good as he was a few years ago when he averaged 33.7 points per game between 2017-18 and 2019-20 seasons, but he is still one of the most lethal players in the league. He would be an excellent fit next to Embiid, and the two would form a devastating inside-outside combination other teams would struggle to stop.

The Sixers, in order to fit Harden on the roster, would have to send out $61-65 million in salary without taking any back, according to Charania and Amick's report. The most realistic option to get that done would be to do a sign-and-trade with the Nets involving Simmons, Tobias Harris or both.

Holding onto Simmons until the offseason, just for merely an opportunity to acquire Harden, is an incredibly risky proposition. The Sixers should avoid putting all their eggs in one basket, especially when there is no guarantee Harden will even become available in the offseason.

Morey is reportedly keeping all options open, but he has a clear preference to wait it out until the offseason. Is the reported offer from the Kings involving Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and some first-round picks for Simmons, Harris and Matisse Thybulle worth pulling the trigger now and foregoing a possible run at Harden? That offer presents the right combination of assets to improve the team now while also having some future assets and a player who has a good probability of developing into an All-Star caliber player.

John Collins has been another name floated in trade discussions between the Sixers and the Atlanta Hawks. Collins would be an intriguing fit, but the team would have to trade Harris to make the fit work. Keith Pompey, in his latest report for The Inquirer, reported the Hawks were not at all interested in taking Harris back in a trade package centering around Collins.

The trade market has opened up since the beginning of the season, and there are definitely offers that could help the Sixers now and in the future. Getting a Haliburton-centered offer from the Kings would likely be the best scenario for the Sixers if they were to trade Simmons before the trade deadline. Morey might have a prior relationship with Harden, but passing up on the reported trade mentioned above centering around Haliburton would be unwise based off a mere chance at acquiring Harden in the offseason.

The overarching question for the Sixers heading into the trade deadline remains what they will do with Simmons. Morey is willing to play the waiting game, even at the cost of limiting the team's ceiling during one of Embiid's best seasons. The trade deadline stands just over two weeks away, and the rumors will surely continue to appear.