It sounds as though the Philadelphia 76ers may not have to wait until the offseason to trade disgruntled star Ben Simmons after all. Recent reports suggested that the Sixers wanted to wait until more star players were available this summer before exploring a trade centered around Simmons, but The Athletic's Shams Charania reported on Friday that the Brooklyn Nets are open to discussing a trade ahead of the deadline where James Harden would be sent to Philly in exchange for Simmons.
This is a reverse from recent reports suggesting that Brooklyn did not plan on listening to any trade offers for Harden leading up to the deadline. But according to Charania, there's a sense of urgency within the Nets' organization this season, as they view it as a "critical year in Kevin Durant's prime." This report comes at a time when the Nets aren't playing their best basketball. Durant is currently sidelined with a sprained MCL, and during that time Brooklyn has gone just 2-7 and is currently on a six-game losing streak.
The Nets view a potential Simmons-for-Harden swap as an opportunity to get Brooklyn more depth, with Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle all being potential add-ons to the deal. However, the Sixers reportedly would not include Maxey in a deal for Harden, per CBS Sports' Michael Kaskey-Blomain. Philadelphia has been resistant in the past to trade Maxey, most recently when the team looked to acquire Harden originally from the Rockets. But with Joel Embiid playing at an MVP-level again, and the Sixers climbing up to the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 31-20 record, Philadelphia clearly wants to take advantage of this season and almost certainly will be a piece that the Nets ask for in any return for Harden.
Simmons has yet to play this season since requesting a trade from the Sixers during the offseason. The All-Star guard has cited his mental health as his reason for being unable to play in Philadelphia and, up to this point, it looked as though this saga would continue into this summer with no viable trade partner rising to the top.
The Atlanta Hawks have remained engaged with Philadelphia in a trade package centered around John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic and draft compensation, but it hasn't intrigued the Sixers, per Charania. The Minnesota Timberwolves are also still conversing with the Sixers to acquire Simmons, but don't want to meet Philly's high asking price in regards to draft picks. So it appears as though everything is coming back to a Harden-for-Simmons swap.
Harden and the Sixers have been linked together for some time, with Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reporting recently that the former league MVP was open to looking at opportunities outside of the Nets this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Harden responded to those rumors by saying he's been "frustrated" with this season in regards to injuries and COVID-19 derailing the team's success but shot down the idea that he wanted out of Brooklyn. However, there's been "growing concern" over Harden's fit with the Nets, per Charania, as his ball-dominant play hasn't meshed well with Brooklyn's desire to play a more free-flowing style of basketball.
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Though this doesn't mean a deal will be done between Brooklyn and Philadelphia, it's the firmest Simmons deal we've seen since it was reported that he wanted out. The Sixers have been reluctant to trade the All-Defensive guard for anything less than an All-Star caliber player, but with Harden potentially available now, they can re-focus on getting a deal done before the deadline.