General manager Gene Shue has dismissed any recent contact between the Sixers and other teams as routine business, always started by the other guy, and never more than cursory.
However, the talk with the Lakers was serious enough to have lasted more than 10 days and to have involved former Lakers star Earvin "Magic" Johnson in an unspecified role.
Only the strictures of the salary cap and the difficulty of adding two more players to the trade prevented it from happening.
Barkley got a phone call from Johnson when the Sixers were in Sacramento on Jan. 2, according to several sources.
It's unclear whether Johnson was acting for the Lakers in an official capacity - which the league would consider tampering - but he asked if Barkley was interested in playing for the Lakers. Barkley said he was. Johnson indicated that the deal was alive and that he would try to help get it done.
Johnson has publicly denied calling Barkley.
By the end of the Sixers' West Coast trip, Barkley was speaking openly of an impending trade.
"I know where I'm going, but I ain't saying," Barkley said after a trip- ending loss to the Portland Trail Blazers last Sunday.
Shortly after the team returned home on Monday, teammate Ron Anderson also was apparently convinced that he would be part of the deal, one that also was to bring young center Elden Campbell from the Lakers.
According to Sixers sources, both Barkley and Anderson went into Wednesday's home game against the Houston Rockets believing it might be their last as Sixers.
After that game, owner Harold Katz took Barkley into an office near the Sixers' locker room for a short, private meeting. Katz would not disclose the purpose of the meeting, but sources say he told Barkley there was no trade on the horizon and that he wanted Barkley to stop speculating publicly about one.
"I don't start trade rumors," Barkley said Friday. "You can put that on the record. I know that something was going on, and I know I didn't start it. I have no interest in uprooting my family and moving. Why would I start trade rumors?"
Anderson declined to comment about the recent trade talk.
Katz and Shue insist there is no deal in the offing regarding Barkley. Katz has said that teams have contacted the Sixers recently, wondering if the Sixers are disenchanted with their controversial superstar.
"We haven't heard anything that would be considered a reasonable offer," Katz said. "Really, we have no interest in trading him. But you always listen. If a blockbuster came along, anybody could be traded."
Other sources in the league say the Sixers have been actively shopping Barkley and continue to do so.
"They'd love to make a trade," one general manager said of the Sixers. ''I know they want to move him badly, especially after the book," the GM said, referring to Barkley's autobiography that criticizes Katz and several Sixers players.
One source says the Trail Blazers asked the Sixers what it would take to get Barkley. The Sixers responded by discussing a package that included two Trail Blazers and two draft picks. The ball, according to the source, is in Portland's court.
Sources in Atlanta indicate that while the rumored Barkley-for-Dominique Wilkins one-for-one trade was never proposed, there has been continuing discussion between the teams.
And as long as the Sixers are struggling to win, and as long as Charles Barkley remains controversial, there will be talk of a trade.
"You look at Charles Barkley. He's one of the five best players in the world," said the Sacramento Kings' player-personnel director, Jerry Reynolds. ''You know he's crazy, but that's part of the package, and most of the players in the league are pains in the ass. So why not have one who is a legitimate winner?
"If you're going to trade him, I think everybody in the league ought to be interested, except for four or five teams. But the problem is getting value. What's the right value for Charles Barkley? It's got to be a lot."