Before NBA superstar James Harden ever even requested a trade from the Houston Rockets, the Philadelphia 76ers were already linked to the veteran guard. As former Rockets GM Daryl Morey became the Sixers' President of Basketball Operations, many were under the belief he was going to try and get his favorite player to come with him.
Well, those beliefs weren't wrong. Eventually, Harden did request a trade, and things got ugly in Houston. As the Rockets realized they couldn't move forward with Harden on the team, they looked to accommodate his requests of sending him to the Sixers or the Brooklyn Nets.
For a while, it seemed the 76ers were actually going to part ways with Ben Simmons so they could surround their MVP candidate Joel Embiid with a superstar shooter, but Houston ultimately chose a multi-team trade, where they sent Harden to Brooklyn.
It didn't happen quickly, though. For weeks, Simmons saw his name linked to trade rumors involving Harden. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers claimed that Simmons handled it all well. And the fourth-year guard himself said that he was doing all he could to block all of the rumors out.
"I come in every day, take it one day at a time, ready to work," Simmons said in December. "I'm with my teammates every day I wake up; every time I got a Sixers uniform on, I'm representing the Sixers. My mentality never changes. I'm here to win a championship. That goal is never going to change. I know things are always gonna be said in the media with rumors and things like that, but my goal is to come in every day, get better, and help the team that I'm on win championship."
While the rumors were spreading like wildfire, Simmons was off to a shaky start to the year. Even though he wouldn't admit the outside chatter didn't affect him, Sixers veteran forward Tobias Harris admitted that he could "feel that kind of stress" on Simmons as the rumors were constant. Therefore, he had a talk with him, and since then, Harris believes everything that went down fueled Simmons.
"I had conversations with Ben, too. I was like, ‘The only way you become untrade-able, pretty much, is if you win a championship.’ If you win a championship, nobody is breaking apart (that) team. You’ll add pieces to the team, but you’re not breaking up the core pieces. That was one of the things (he talked with Simmons about). I think it was kind of motivating (for him). I’ve always been motivated by it in general, but I think it was motivating for somebody like him because I think that was the first time he actually really heard his name out there in those rumors, right? To that extent."
h/t to Sam Amick of The Athletic.
Simmons has looked like a much better player on the floor with the Harden-Simmons trade rumors officially in the rearview. Before the trade went down, Simmons was averaging just 12 points-per-game on the offensive end through 11 games, which was a career-low for him.
In the following 15 games since the trade between Houston and Brooklyn was finalized, Simmons has accounted for 18 points-per-game and remains one of the best defenders in the entire league.
Last week, Simmons admitted that he needed to work on his mentality so he could play more aggressively and confidently on the offensive end. Now that the trade rumors have disappeared, it seems Harris is right. Ben Simmons is more motivated than ever to win, and he's shown that a lot lately.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_