A theory on how the Sixers can land James Harden without giving up Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid

A few hours ago Shams Charania of Stadium put out a report that said the 76ers are interested in acquiring Rockets star James Harden. That’s a big want, but Shams’ also followed up by saying it is a nonstarter for the team and they aren’t going to trade Harden.

It actually doesn’t make financial sense for Houston, a small market team, in the middle of an incredibly scary financial future, to move a player that fans love, and at least gives you the appearance that you are competing. However, for the sake of this exercise, I am going to ignore the financial side. Also, for this exercise, I am going to pretend that the Rockets are ready to clean house and rebuild. I personally believe that you can’t win with James Harden being your best player, and I don’t think the Rockets have the ability to acquire a star player better than Harden within the next two years (Harden’s contract length). In my opinion, and how I am going to treat this exercise, Houston is better off moving Harden and getting future assets for him.

Let’s start with what each team wants and what each team has. What each team has is very important because Houston’s future asset collection just isn’t good.

Round 1 ’22 and ’23 ’20, ’21,’ 22,’ 23, ’24, ’25,’ 26
Round 2 ’21, ’24 (x2), ’25, ’26’20(x4), ’21(x2), ’22, ’23(x2), ’24(x2), ’25, ’26
Picks by year from now till 2026

Now, assuming the Rockets want to start to rebuild, two first-round picks in the next 6 years isn’t exactly the foundation to start. The Sixers are entering quite a different territory, one that they may be willing to give up several years picks for that last piece. Morey was rumored to want to trade four future picks for Jimmy Butler and he traded two for Westbrook. I think it is fair to say he would be willing to move four for Harden.

But, is four late first enough? Fair question, but in the NBA a team can’t trade back to back first-round picks, so these 4 picks would be every other year for the next 8 years. Harden is under contract for two more years and Joel is for three. Are we sure with Harden’s age and Joel’s injury history the Sixers will continue to be at the top of the seedings for the next eight years?

But, someone else could offer more? Of course, someone else could. But again, Harden is 31 and has shown that you most likely can’t win the West with Harden as your best player. In my eyes, a team should only trade for Harden if they think they are a piece away from winning in the next two years. That many first-round picks are a lot to give up for two years of a guy if you don’t think you can win during that time.

So, what other teams, in that situation, would the Sixers be bidding against? Bucks? Do they want to give up future assets if there is a chance Giannis leaves? Clippers? Traded away all their future picks for PG13. Celtics? Don’t think Harden is a need for them really, not enough to give up that many picks. Nuggets? Have Jamal Murray, do they really need another guard that can score like that? Heat? Maybe, but that would seriously affect their ability to sign a max lever free agent in 2021. The Raptors however would present an interesting trade partner that the Sixers may be bidding against. They aren’t far off, and taking a major swing like pairing Harden with Siakam for two years is a risk that Masai Ujiri would be willing to take. At that point it becomes a bidding war of young players, second-round picks, and pick swaps.

Salary wise, the Rockets would have to take either Horford or Tobias back. Tobias works straight up for Harden. For Horford, the Sixers would have to send more salary. Which if Houston wanted could ask for young players like Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith and still save 5 million in salary this season. With Zhaire being expiring they would save even more money next season, Harden’s salary going up and cutting Zhaire salary, could be a selling point to a team. Especially, if they are going to try to cut spending in these uncertain times.

It sounds crazy to sit down and think that the Sixers could pull off a trade for Harden without giving up Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. But, depending on what Houston decides to do for the future it’s very well possible. Could another team jump in and offer something better for him? Of course. Could Houston continue to try to ride the Harden train and make as much money as they can? Yes, they could. And ultimately, they probably will, but then it’s not crazy to think the Sixers could put together a trade package for Harden, that would make Houston think about it, and no include Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.

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