By Mark Gallagher

So, the Sixers came up short in the James Harden Trade Stakes.

As recently as yesterday afternoon, Ben Simmons was ticketed to Houston, with The New York Times reporting that the Rockets were “pursuing” a package headlined by him and rookie Tyrese Maxey.

That never came to fruition, however, with the Nets ultimately pulling the trigger on a deal for the eight-time All-Star, leaving Simmons “pretty ecstatic,” according to a report from ESPN’s The Undefeated.

And the centerpiece of the Rockets’ return in the James Harden trade: Victor Oladipo.

But Houston could have gotten a bigger star – 76ers guard Ben Simmons or maybe Nets guard Kyrie Irving.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Ben Simmons was absolutely on the table.

I know that the Rockets wanted nothing to do with Kyrie coming back in this deal.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

Irving is a heck of a player when on the court, just 28 and locked in for two more seasons. But his ongoing absence makes establishing his value incredibly difficult.

Simmons – a star himself, just 24 and locked in five more seasons – would’ve been the safer bet. He and John Wall would have fit poorly together, but Wall isn’t necessarily instrumental to the Rockets’ long-term future. Simmons would’ve been their franchise player.

By opting for Oladipo, Houston also got a huge haul of draft picks – four unprotected first-rounders and four first-round swaps.

The Sixers offer almost certainly didn’t include all that. The Rockets could have also gotten some combination of Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and other picks. But Houston preferred the offer that maximized the picks (and didn’t sound out another positive-value player in P.J. Tucker).

We’ll see how that turns out.

Obviously, all eyes will remain on Irving and his confounding situation, anyway.

Simmons and Joel Embiid will continue their partnership with a better-fitting supporting cast. It’s obviously great news for Philadelphia that Simmons is so excited to stay. Sometimes, players are bothered by being put into trade talks.