Atlantic Notes: Harden, Mills, Simmons, Simovic, Knicks

The Rockets remain a serious contender to sign James Harden, a source close to the Sixers star told Sam Amick of The Athletic. Recent speculation has trended toward Harden remaining in Philadelphia, but his camp wants to make it clear that Houston is still an option.

While it seems odd for a top player to consider leaving a title contender for a rebuilding franchise, Amick notes that a battle for leverage is behind all the leaks regarding Harden’s future. At age 33, his ability to land a near-max contract is limited unless he’s able to create the impression that more than one team is interested. Amick observes that both Philadelphia and Houston have been convinced throughout the process that they’re the prohibitive favorite to land Harden and that he’s only using the other team as a leverage ploy.

Keeping Harden is vital to the Sixers’ title hopes and they could be facing a “gap year” if he decides to leave, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN (video link). He states that Philadelphia would only have about $9MM in cap space without Harden, leaving almost no ability to replace him unless the team can unload other salary.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Patty Mills is hoping Ben Simmons can take the court for Australia in the FIBA World Cup this summer as a prelude to a healthy season with the Nets, per Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Mills is encouraged by what he has seen from Simmons’ offseason workouts. “We’re still a few weeks away yet,” Mills said. “From all accords and from what I’ve heard, he’s looking after his body and getting to the shape and health that I think everyone wants and needs him to be. So I think first and foremost for him is just about getting to that part where he can be Ben again.”
  • Ivo Simovic, an assistant at UCLA, is finalizing an agreement to join Darko Rajakovic‘s coaching staff with the Raptors, tweets Pete Thamel of ESPN. Simovic and Rajakovic have teamed up before in Serbia and Spain, according to Thamel.
  • Fred Katz of The Athletic explores 10 potential targets for the Knicks with their non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Katz cites Nuggets swingman Bruce Brown as one possibility, although Brown might be able to exceed the MLE on the open market and he doesn’t solve the team’s need for more outside shooting.
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