The Philadelphia 76ers should immediately submit a strong trade offer for James Harden.
It’s official. James Harden has asked out of Houston, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Harden reportedly wants a trade to Brooklyn, but that shouldn’t stop the Philadelphia 76ers from getting involved — immediately.
Daryl Morey has said the Sixers’ best strategy might be to wait and see how the roster looks under Doc Rivers before making any foundation-shifting changes. But frankly, James Harden — a top-five NBA player and one of the greatest scorers in NBA history — does not come a-knockin’ very often.
The Rockets have the power to trade Harden to any team. Just because Harden wants Brooklyn does not mean he will end up in Brooklyn. Earlier reports have hinted at potential interest in Philly, and the Sixers have the best asset of any potential suitor: Ben Simmons.
If anyone should understand the value of Harden, it’s Morey. The Sixers’ new president brought Harden to Houston in the first place, and because of that move Houston has been a continuous force in the Western Conference for eight years.
Last season, Harden averaged 34.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from deep — on 12.4 three-point attempts per game. He did so while sharing the court with a notoriously ball-dominant Russell Westbrook. He has now led the NBA in scoring three consecutive seasons.
The Sixers should value Ben Simmons and all he brings to the table. At 24, Simmons is already one of the NBA’s best defenders, and his open-court playmaking is virtuosic. I have been on the record in saying Simmons is a top-20 player. He is vastly underrated by the general NBA fandom. Even so, Philadelphia shouldn’t hesitate to trade him for Harden. It’s not a particularly hard decision.
Philadelphia’s window of opportunity is now. There is no wiggle room financially, no room to add via free agency. This is it, unless Morey and the front office find ways to enact change via the trade market. Simmons has a longer career ahead of him, but Harden instantly elevates Philadelphia from fringe contender to, quite possibly, favorites in the East.
In Joel Embiid and James Harden, the Sixers would arguably have two of the 10 best players in basketball. Whereas Embiid and Simmons clash, Embiid and Harden could develop a harmonious partnership.
Harden is a maestro in the pick-and-roll, and could deliver more easy looks to Embiid than he has ever had. Part of the problem with Embiid’s durability is the burden he carries in the halfcourt. With no reliable creators on the perimeter, Philadelphia has religiously leaned on Embiid to post-up and generate his own offense — often while being confronted with double teams and overtly physical defense.
Getting easy dump-offs at the rim, or open pick-and-pop looks would greatly ease the burden on Embiid’s body, and perhaps allow him to stay healthier longer. Harden is not only a gifted scorer, but a truly elite facilitator. It’s part of his game that is too often overlooked due to Houston’s lopsided style of play.
When a perennial MVP candidate becomes available — and when that perennial MVP candidate fits so clearly with your best player — there’s hardly justification for not pursuing a trade. Ben Simmons is great, and he would look excellent in Houston’s spaced out offense. But James Harden is James Harden, and at the end of the day, the Sixers shouldn’t overthink this.
Brooklyn cannot touch Philadelphia’s best offer.