James Harden trade rumors: Ben Simmons was on table, but Rockets wanted ‘nothing to do’ with Kyrie Irving

Before the Rockets agreed to send James Harden to the Nets as part of a blockbuster four-team deal, the 76ers were long considered the favorites to acquire the former MVP because they had a piece no other team could offer: Ben Simmons.

At just 24 years old, Simmons has already shown himself to be an elite playmaker (7.9 assists per game for his career) and versatile defender (First Team All-Defense in 2019-20). Houston had reportedly been seeking a young franchise cornerstone as part of any Harden package, and Simmons fit that description better than any other player that was realistically available.

TRADE GRADES: Nets go all-in on championship chase

On Wednesday’s edition of the “Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective” podcast, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon told Windhorst and Marc J. Spears that Simmons was “absolutely on the table” but noted that there wasn’t a “consensus” within the Sixers organization that trading Simmons for Harden was the best move. Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers in particular has been a big supporter of keeping Simmons and Joel Embiid together.

Hearing Ben Simmons was pretty ecstatic to not be traded from the Sixers to Houston for James Harden and believes his team is capable of bringing a title to Philadelphia. Doc Rivers is also a huge fan of Simmons and believes the best is yet to come with two-time NBA All-Star.

— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) January 13, 2021

It’s unclear exactly where the 76ers drew the line in the sand, but they likely weren’t willing to offer the same kind of draft compensation as the Nets. Brooklyn handed over control of its next seven drafts to Houston (three future first-round picks and four future pick swaps). The Rockets reportedly wanted Simmons, picks and other players in a potential deal with the Sixers — Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle were part of discussions — and even for a superstar like Harden, that’s a high asking price.

One thing the Rockets didn’t want? Kyrie Irving. They had no interest in acquiring the Nets guard, who has missed Brooklyn’s past five games for “personal reasons.” 

“I know that the Rockets wanted nothing to do with Kyrie coming back in this deal,” MacMahon said. “I get it. Basically their point was, ‘OK, so we’re going to trade one really unhappy superstar for an even unhappier star who’s not as good?’ If Kyrie gets traded somewhere where he doesn’t want to be, I don’t know that he’s even reporting.”

Windhorst added that NBA executives are divided on Irving’s trade value. He was told Irving could hypothetically be part of a transaction that allows the Nets to obtain multiple first-round picks, or he could only be attached in a trade as filler. Given his mysterious status, it’s no surprise to hear the differing views about Irving.

Now Brooklyn will move forward with a “Big Three” of Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant, while Philadelphia will focus on building around Simmons and Embiid. Perhaps the Nets and Sixers can settle who won the trade/non-trade in an Eastern Conference playoff series later this year.