The James Harden sweepstakes are reportedly advancing beyond his preferred Brooklyn Nets. Multiple playoff teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences are talking to Houston about Harden, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, and those teams are growing increasingly comfortable in making a deal without Harden committing to a contract extension. The most important development, though, has come from another of Harden's preferred destinations. The Philadelphia 76ers have been willing to discuss Ben Simmons in a possible deal, though the two sides have not come close to a completed deal, per Wojnarowski and Shelburne.
Daryl Morey, president of basketball operations for the 76ers, has denied that report. "We are not trading Ben Simmons -- he is an important part of our future," Morey told The Athletic's Shams Charania. It should be noted, though, that Morey's history with such proclamations is spotty. In 2019, for instance, he said that the Rockets would not field trade calls on Chris Paul. Later that offseason, he traded Paul for Russell Westbrook.
Simmons, a 24-year-old Third-Team All-NBA honoree, is likely the best asset that the Rockets could hope to get in any Harden deal. He is the one player seemingly on the table that would give them a possible franchise player in exchange for Harden, who, in turn, would solve Philadelphia's shot-creation issues. While it is unclear what other players and draft picks are being discussed on either side, Simmons for Harden is the simplest swap on the board. Every other team in the hunt is playing catchup.
For now, the Rockets are reportedly planning to start the season with Harden on the roster. While the Brooklyn Nets have not been ruled out entirely, the Rockets simply aren't interested in the assets they have to offer, so a three-team deal would have to be arranged to make Harden a Net.
Harden has reportedly named the Nets, 76ers, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks as the contenders he would be interested in playing for. The Nets and Bucks lack the assets to make it happen. Miami can offer an enticing package of youngsters built around Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, but is limited in the draft capital it can put on the table. Surely, mystery teams will arise throughout this price (and we've covered who they might be).
But if Simmons is truly on the table, the 76ers become the heavy favorites to land Harden. His upside is so much higher than any other single trade asset available here that in order to top him, another team would have to offer a preposterous combination of young talent, draft capital and cap relief. Such a package, for now, doesn't appear to exist, so at this moment, Philadelphia should be considered the leader in the race for Harden.