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What the 76ers' interest in James Harden says about their faith in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

Ben Rohrbach
·4-min read

The Philadelphia 76ers are interested in trading for Houston Rockets guard James Harden, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. This is no surprise. All teams are interested in perennial MVP candidates.

This report does give us some insight into what Daryl Morey might be thinking as he embarks on his new role as president of basketball operations for the Sixers. Morey, the former general manager of the Rockets, must have complete faith in Harden, a bona fide superstar who has failed to deliver a Finals appearance. He also must not have the same faith in the star tandem of 76ers teammates Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

This would not be breaking news, either. There have long been doubts about whether a 6-foot-10 point guard who cannot space the floor is the best partner for a 7-foot center who should dominate the paint.

But Morey’s continued interest in Harden signals that Simmons could be the odd man out if the Sixers decide the Simmons-Embiid combination ran its course with this past season’s whimper of a first-round exit. Harden and Simmons make no sense together. The former is an offense unto himself, requiring the ball and shooters around him to perform his mastery. Simmons is a point guard who cannot shoot. Offensively, he is a worse fit next to Harden than Russell Westbrook, and nobody should know that better than Morey.

Harden and Embiid would be a fascinating pairing. Both freed by the space the other provides, they could get a step-back three-pointer or a drop-step post-up on every possession, before you even consider the pick-and-roll possibilities. Embiid would also serve as a second line of defense to mask Harden’s failures.

And I cannot imagine how many times the Sixers would get to the line. Harden and Embiid both ranked in the top six in free throw attempts per game this past season. Philadelphia ranked in the bottom 10 in free throw attempts, three-point attempts and field goal attempts inside of five feet, and Harden would almost singlehandedly lift them into the top 10 in all three categories. With Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson in the fold, the 76ers would be a title contender, so long as Morey can work the margins for sharpshooters.

The problem? Houston has no interest in trading Harden, according to Charania. Nobody will be surprised that the Rockets do not want to trade a top-five player, especially to the executive who just left their front office. They really would not want to trade Harden for Simmons, who along with Westbrook would give Houston two of the worst-shooting ball-dominant point guards in the league, a recipe for absolute disaster.

What now, then, if Morey believes he has a Simmons-Embiid problem and cannot solve it with Harden? If we know anything about Morey’s mindframe, he covets star players. He left a team with two former MVPs to join one with a pair of potential future MVPs. Morey is not trading either dollar for four quarters. He might deal one if he can find a star of similar caliber who better fits his roster. That the first leak out of his office is reported interest in Harden reveals where he is leaning if he were to make a move. Morey wants offense.

The Sixers were an average offensive team this past season, scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions. (Over the previous four seasons, Harden’s Rockets never scored fewer than 112.5.) There is little doubt that Simmons is an impediment to elite halfcourt offense. So, for whom could Morey deal him? Bradley Beal, the league’s second-leading scorer behind Harden, is a possible target. How would the Washington Wizards feel about a package centered around Simmons, a 24-year-old two-time All-Star with untapped potential?

But are we sure a Beal-Embiid tandem is championship caliber? I would not be convinced, which is probably why Morey is thinking bigger with Harden. Only a handful of players fall into his category as a singular force capable of carrying a team to 50 wins and multiple playoff victories. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo are among them. Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum may join them.

Those guys rarely enter the trade market. Morey knows this. It is why he went after Harden in Houston and paired him with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Westbrook to varying degrees of success. That Morey may now be looking to pair Harden with Embiid in Philadelphia tells us all we need to know about who he trusts.

James Harden and Joel Embiid would be a handful for Eastern Conference defenses. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
James Harden and Joel Embiid would be a handful for Eastern Conference defenses. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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