James Harden wasn’t traded to the Philadelphia 76ers until the final hours leading up to the NBA trade deadline, but rumors linked him to his ultimate destination for years prior. Harden was nearly dealt to the 76ers in 2021, but the Brooklyn Nets won out and nabbed him at the last second. When his situation in Brooklyn soured, though, he turned to Philadelphia for salvation. The 76ers are run by Daryl Morey, Harden’s former general manager in Houston, and Tad Brown, former CEO of the Rockets.
Those relationships compelled plenty of amateur detectives to connect some dots. If ever a situation lent itself to tampering, it was this one. But according to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the league is not currently investigating the 76ers for tampering. “I think, in this case, you have two teams that seem satisfied with the outcome of the trade,” Silver said.
Brooklyn ultimately turned a 32-year-old declining Harden into a 25-year-old Ben Simmons along with several other valuable assets. Even if the Nets wanted to keep Harden, it would be hard to argue with the package they got in return. Simmons is exactly the sort of defender they’d lacked. They recouped some of the draft capital they initially spent on Harden, and now look to be a far more balanced team than they were a month ago. For now, it looks like a win-win trade.
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Even if the Nets believe that Philadelphia tampered to convince Harden to force a trade, there are a variety of reasons why they likely didn’t push for a tampering investigation. The obvious one is that they themselves traded for Harden only a year ago, and their players reportedly wanted Harden badly. They just as easily could have tampered themselves. Even if the 76ers were caught in the act, it’s not as though the penalty is especially steep. The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls were each docked only a second-round pick for tampering on Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, respectively, this past offseason.
Until the NBA creates and enforces stricter tampering laws, investigations ultimately serve no purpose. Whether or not Philadelphia tampered to help land Harden is almost irrelevant. He’s a 76er now, and no wrongdoing they might have committed on the way is going to change that.