Where is James Harden being traded this time?

After being on his way out of Houston and then demanding a trade from Brooklyn, James Harden now reportedly wants out of Philadelphia. But don’t shed too many tears for the Sixers. This is probably the best. The reality is that Philadelphia could probably find a better sidekick for the NBA’s reigning MVP, Joel Embiid. And with Harden’s departure imminent as NBA free agency begins, the 76ers have new opportunities to explore and possibly something to gain.

After Harden signed his expiring $35.6 million contract Thursday, many reports said he is seeking a trade from the Sixers to the New York Knicks, Miami Heat or Los Angeles Clippers. Which potential destination makes the most sense? It would be confusing if New York has serious interest in pairing Harden with Jalen Brunson. Miami needs a point guard. But why not wait for Damian Lillard? Phoenix just went all in for Bradley Beal and had to be extremely creative to make anything work. AthleticsSam Amick reports that LA is where Harden is want to playand the Clippers may still make the most compelling offer.

The Sixers should essentially try to trade Harden for everything he is not: players who are knockdown shooters off the catch, active movers without the ball and tough defenders.

Negotiations with the Clippers will likely start with Paul George. A mega trade that sends Harden, PJ Tucker and Tobias Harris to the Clippers and returns George and a collection of role players makes mutual sense. But pairing Harden with Kawhi Leonard and George is likely LA’s playoff pick, and the Sixers don’t have a ton of leverage to ask for a player of George’s caliber. Harden turns 34 next season, has been in physical decline and has just one year left on his deal. Although George himself is 33, with only one guaranteed year remaining, the Clippers would almost certainly prefer to keep him. It’s more likely we’d see a deal where Philly sends Harden and Tucker to the Clippers to get only the role players and one or two future first picks.

Here’s a realistic deal that could make sense for both parties:

Clippers get: Harden and Tucker

Sixers get: Terance Mann, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum and first-round picks in 2028 and 2030

This return would give Philly four players who shot over 38 percent from 3 last season. Mann and Powell are still in their prime, and Covington and Batum are veterans who would be smart additions.

We just saw the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat get to the Finals with two stars each and a bunch of quality role players operating around them. New Sixers head coach Nick Nurse will have a lot on his plate, but with this trade, he would have a ton of options, minus a ball-dominant guard like Harden.

I wrote this during the finale earlier this month, and it seems timely again now:

The nurse should allow Embiid to attack more from the perimeter, similar to how Milwaukee uses Giannis. And just like Denver uses Jokic, the nurse has to place Embiid in different places on the floor. The Nuggets get Jokic in advantageous positions with off-screen actions and with his reps as a ballhandler in the pick-and-roll.

Embiid may lack Giannis’ vertical athleticism and Jokic’s game feel, but he brings additional dimensions to the game that can be amplified in a system that promotes movement and spacing. It’s an advantage he’s rarely experienced under various Sixers regimes. Imagine Embiid instead of Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento, screening, passing the ball to the shooter and posting up. The Sixers won’t switch to the extreme, but they should at least install some elements of that kind of system.

Making Harden a group of role players would put the Sixers on the same path they’re building around Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, whose game could take off with more space and the right system.

There are other benefits to trading Harden, too. Collecting picks from the Clippers would help rebuild the asset base for potential use in future trades, perhaps as a sweetener to Harris’ expiring deal.

And with my proposed trade structure above, the Sixers would expect to have more than $40 million in cap space next summer, where there will be a free agency class that could feature George, Leonard, LeBron James and tons of other quality players. Who knows? Maybe Philly will be the team that pitches to sign LeBron and draft Bronny James. After all, Embiid and LeBron just launched a production company together-news that comes months after LeBron first drafted Embiid for the All-Star Game.

For Philly fans, though, it’s disappointing that it has come to this type of fantasy. The Sixers have won many games since the acquisition of Beard. Trading Harden was a worthy play to replace the absent Ben Simmons, but Harden could only occasionally tap into his best scoring ability in Philly, and he didn’t offer enough in other categories.

Losing Harden could be a blessing in disguise for the Sixers, or it could be the beginning of the end of Embiid’s tenure in Philadelphia. I will not pretend that I can predict the future. But there is a lot at stake in this trade. A passionate fan base thirsts for a championship. The NBA’s MVP wants it too. And if he doesn’t get what he wants, he may develop a wandering eye one day, just like his soon-to-be nomadic teammate.

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