Sixers Trade Rumors: James Harden Is the Wrong Answer to Philadelphia’s Problems, and Certainly Not Its Ben Simmons Problem

Just seven days away from the trade deadline, the biggest NBA star in the news is still Ben Simmons. Every one of the Sixers trade rumors surrounds their former franchise point guard, whether it’s in a deal for the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal or another high-level player who may or may not be available.

All signs, however, seem to lead the Philadelphia 76ers toward an eventual James Harden deal. Whether that comes before the Feb. 10 deadline or sometime in the summer, the consensus seems to be a transaction that will make Harden a member of the 76ers.

While Daryl Morey would surely love to reunite with his former Houston Rockets star, the problem lies in two of those last four words — “former” and “star.” The Beard is no longer the player he used to be. He’s not the superstar who would have once solved what plagues Philadelphia.

The most seemingly legitimate Sixers trade rumors involve Harden

The Sixers fulfilling trade rumors of acquiring James Harden is not the answer for the franchise.
James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. | Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

By all accounts, unless something shocking happens before Feb. 10, Simmons isn’t leaving his current franchise. The only plausible way that happens is if Harden goes back to the 76ers in return, and that doesn’t seem likely.

It was no secret during the 2021 offseason that Morey wanted to bring his former franchise star to Philly and was using Simmons as bait. But the Rockets didn’t bite and decided to go with Brooklyn’s offer, Harden ended up with the Nets, and the Philly star began his disgruntlement that’s led us here.

But the 76ers are still after Harden.

Via Marc Stein, Morey is now prepared to hold onto the former LSU star through the season before trying to find a way to acquire The Beard during the summer.

“Perhaps (Morey) has also been sold on a concept that executives with a growing number of rival teams say they see as Morey’s new preferred scenario — keeping Simmons beyond the trade deadline to exhaust every last possibility for executing a complicated sign-and-trade in the offseason that finally brings James Harden to Philadelphia and routes Simmons to Brooklyn.”

It’s becoming clearer by the day — it’s Morey’s NBA soulmate or bust for Philadelphia.

But a James Harden trade wouldn’t bring the Sixers any closer to a title

The James from two seasons ago might be the tonic Philly needs to cure its ills. But the Harden of right now isn’t that same player.

The 32-year-old hasn’t played more than 68 games since the 2018-19 season, the year after he won his MVP. He played just 43 games last season.

Harden added a hamstring injury — which has been his biggest problem — during the Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Milwaukee Bucks. He started this season slowly, blaming it on that same injury.

The nine-time All-Star has picked it up a bit since then, but he’s not the same player he was in Houston, either physically or statistically.

Harden is on pace to miss about a dozen games this year. His 22.5 point-per-game scoring average is his lowest since his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011-12 when he came off the bench.

His shooting splits have taken a dive as well. He’s shooting 41.4% from the field, his lowest since his rookie season. His 33.2% shooting from three is the lowest of his entire career. Even his shot attempts overall are down.

Maybe Harden still isn’t fully healthy. Maybe it’s the stress of Kyrie Irving and other off-court matters bringing him down. Maybe it’s his deference to Kyrie and Kevin Durant when they’re on the court together.

But the eye test also makes it seem like the three-time scoring champ is on the downside of his career — it is, after all, his 13th season in the league.

What does Morey see in Harden that makes him believe he’s the answer to the 76ers issues?

Putting all of Philly’s eggs in the Harden basket is a dangerous game to play

There’s no reason for Morey to be 100% concrete in his belief that the Arizona State product will be available during the summer.

Working in his favor is his previous relationship with Harden and the fact that the guard turned down a contract extension from Brooklyn this year.

But the Nets still have KD and Irving on the roster. Regardless of how much of a headache the latter can be, the trio still may be the most talented roster in the NBA, and if healthy, are more than capable of winning the title that’s eluded Harden.

But best-case scenario — everything works out the way Daryl intends, his favorite player ends up in Philly alongside Joel Embiid, and the 76ers shoot for a championship in 2022-23.

The question then becomes, are the Philadelphia 76ers more of a championship contender with Harden on the roster?

The 6-foot-5 combo guard will turn 33 and be in his 14th season. His injury list is still lengthening, and he’ll be another year older. He’ll also be paired with a 7-foot center with his own history of foot injuries.

Harden may be the crown jewel of Morey’s collection. But he’s not adding an NBA Championship trophy to it.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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