Latest Reports Indicate Simmons-Harden Deal Is Not Close

 By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

With there being three days until the Feb. 10 trade deadline, the noise will only continue getting louder around the Philadelphia 76ers and potentially trading disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons.

The talk of the NBA, ever since it was reported Friday evening the Sixers were going after James Harden before the trade deadline, has been centered around if Harden and Sixers' general manager and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey are going to reunite in Philadelphia.

A trio of reports came out early Monday morning centering around a deal not being close. Keith Pompey, in his latest for The Inquirer, was the first to report that the two teams were not close to coming together on a deal.

But a source said Sunday that isn’t something that just came about. The source added that Nets general manager Sean Marks and the Sixers haven’t had discussions about a Simmons-for-Harden deal. However, the source noted both sides are going through back channels and third parties to get information.

"It’s the most bizarre thing," the source said. "It’s almost as if they are playing a game of cat and mouse … because of all the tampering [implications]."

NBA teams suspect the Sixers are tampering in the hope of acquiring Harden through a forced sign-and-trade for Simmons this summer. However, people close to the Sixers don’t believe they will face any tampering charges.

But a source said Morey and Marks did have a preliminary discussion around a month ago. Those discussions are typically about what teams would want in a trade. Multiple sources did say the Sixers did ask if Brooklyn was interested in acquiring Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe to help with a deal as a third team.

Both parties negotiating through back channels is extremely odd, leading into the concerns around the Sixers potentially tampering in an attempt to force a Harden trade before the trade deadline. Pompey also went into some more detail later on in his article about the potential tampering:

And as has been noted before, Harden has close relationships with Morey, Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin, and Sixers CEO Tad Brown. That’s where the tampering concerns arisen. A source said NBA teams fear that Rubin is putting things in place for a forced sign-and-trade through back channels. Teams think that’s why the Sixers are content with waiting until the offseason to deal Simmons.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne also reported about the Harden-Simmons talks, confirming Morey and Nets general manager Sean Marks had a conversation about a month ago. When Morey brought up Harden's name back then, Marks quickly replied "no."

However, things have changed for the Nets over the past month. They are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak and there has been a ton of noise surrounding Harden beginning to get dissatisfied with his time in Brooklyn. There has been too much smoke for there to not be anything there between the Sixers and Nets.

Wojnarowski and Shelburne also wrote about how both teams believe they have "significant leverage" in trade talks:

The Nets and Sixers privately believe they each have significant leverage when it comes to Harden. The Sixers would want to offer a spartan trade package beyond exiled star Ben Simmons because they believe the Nets risk losing him for nothing in the summer. The Nets would want a massive package beyond Simmons, because Philadelphia cannot acquire Harden without unloading significant talent and draft assets to create the salary-cap space for free agency. The Sixers have $133 million on the books for the 2022-23 season, and creating the room to sign him would take the unloading of several players and draft picks.

It is not at all shocking that both sides are trying to present a strong front in these discussions. Marks will want to get as much as he can out of the Sixers in any Harden trade, while Morey will attempt to play his cards in a way to lower the cost of any potential deal.

In the final report from this flurry of news on Monday morning, Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer came in with another report stating the following: 

Neither the Philadelphia 76ers nor any team have even contacted the Nets front office regarding a Harden blockbuster, sources told B/R. There have been no negotiations, no offers, not even a framework discussed. 

Some Brooklyn figures have openly mentioned their interest in swapping Harden for Simmons, sources said. Harden's recent bout of hamstring tightness—which has kept him inactive for four of the Nets' last six games—has coincided with reports of his looming offseason plans and caught the attention of Brooklyn personnel and players alike.

Fischer goes on to report the Sixers still have their sights set on trading Simmons for a superstar player (Harden, Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal) and that they will wait until the offseason if necessary. He reports the team will still be looking to make a trade to supplement the current core of the roster:

As the deadline nears, Philadelphia brass are instead expected to focus on marginal improvements to their roster around MVP front-runner Joel Embiid. Philadelphia has clear needs for supplementary ball-handling and rebounding—two of the largest holes created by Simmons' season-long absence. Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe are the 76ers players most often mentioned as trade candidates by rival executives.

The Sixers do have some clear holes on their roster that could be filled outside of a Simmons trade, and there are certainly a plethora of players the team could acquire to improve along the margins. Regardless of if the team pulls the trigger on a Simmons trade, there will likely be a ton of trade-related news involving the Sixers leading into the trade deadline on Thursday.

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