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Where do the Sixers rank in the East following Harden’s massive free agency decision?

Taking stock of some betting markets following James Harden’s opting out.

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

‘In the final minutes of negotiations, Daryl Morey was shouting to Sean Marks: “Stay on the f---ing phone!” - Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski

On Wednesday, after the 5 P.M. buzzer sounded, Sixers fans were treated to a monster, albeit still hypothetical, offseason win.

James Harden declined his massive $47.4M player option, and according to Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski, the seven time All-NBA, 10 time All-Star, 2018 MVP plans to take a more team-friendly deal so the Sixers can add reinforcements around himself and Joel Embiid... just like he hinted he would back in May.

The decision slates the 13 year pro towards his first ever unrestricted free agency, though there’s no indication he’ll take meetings with anyone but his favorite executive, Daryl Morey.

According to Derek Bodner of Daily Six on Twitter, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested Harden’s next contract, which he can negotiate beginning 6 P.M. Thursday, might wind up in the “mid 30’s.”

Still, Sixers fans can be cynical and jaded so they’re simply not impressed:

OK, you got me, just kidding. Tremendous swaths of die-hard fans are already celebrating Harden’s team-first approach and the mere whiff of an NBA Bi-Annual Roster Exception the way normies celebrate child birth. There’s an almost Process like atmosphere to it all.

This stuff hits different around here, so a possible (I don’t want a tampering fine) huge credit to The Beard if he pulls a Tom Brady to onboard more help.

The Odds

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

As of now, at +700, the Sixers are tied for the 4th best odds in the east to earn a trip to the finals, per Draft Kings. That comes out to the 7th best odds to the win 2023 championship. At +1500 they’re now tied with Ja Morant’s Memphis Grizzlies.

In the East, the Sixers trail the reigning Conference Champion Boston Celtics (+265), currently odds on favorites to emerge once again. Behind Boston are the Milwaukee Bucks (+295), and the Brooklyn Nets (+310), those three rounding out our top tier.

Next our odds get doubly longer as the Heat and Sixers fill in the next tier, tied at +700. That’s our top five.

Then there’s another steep drop off as Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks (+1500) fresh off acquiring former San Antonio Spurs’ All-Star Dejounte Murray rank 6th in the Conference per DK.

The Raptors (+2000) and Bulls (+2200) round out the market’s eight projected playoff teams. The Cavs (+2800) and Hornets (+5500) would be our final Play-In groups.

On the night of the NBA Draft, after trading away the no. 23 overall pick for a “win now” move, Daryl Morey was asked specifically about the Bucks, Celtics, and Heat and where he thinks his Sixers stack up.

Here’s what he told reporters, per Paul Hudrick:

“Yeah, those are tough teams. I think we can compete with them, absolutely — all of them. Of the teams you mentioned, I think we’re definitely better than some of them. Some of them, I think they’ve earned the respect; they’re probably better than us. We’ve got to show that we can beat them. But we feel like absolutely, we’re going to play better and add a couple of key pieces, hopefully — in trade and hopefully in free agency. We feel very good about where we’ll be.”

I’m comfortable reading between the lines here a bit. I think Morey’s initial response implies he thinks his Sixers are/were a better team than the Miami Heat. Maybe he’d venture that if Joel Embiid never tore his thumb and broke his face they would have defeated Jimmy Butler and co. But he did check himself, and added that his team is going to have to show they can beat those three groups.

The Bucks and Celtics are still widely regarded as the teams to beat in the East. So Morey still has some ground to cover and knows it. Interestingly, he was not asked about the Brooklyn Nets, who recently saw a surge in their own title odds, when we got news Kyrie Irving would be opting in to his one year $37M player option.

Vegas (who somehow knew Paolo Banchero was going to the Orlando Magic on draft night even when none of the top reporters seemed to) gives the Nets an implied 24 percent shot to emerge from what figures to be another Eastern Conference blood bath.

The Sixers odds’ come out to roughly half that at 12.5 percent. Clearly, oddsmakers are more bullish on a trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons than many enjoying the chaos.

Just a few days ago, when we still wondered if Irving might head west, Brooklyn’s odds were nearer to Philadelphia’s. But vegas is clearly preparing for Irving and Simmons to play a lot more games than they each did last season.

Still, I think the Sixers have a shot to gain ground on the Heat and Nets over the coming weeks.

Overall, the Los Angeles Clippers (+550) are tied with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors (+550) for odds on favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien next year. Perhaps non-coincidentally those both of those teams are among projected leaders in payroll, or as Brian Windhorst might say, checkbook kings. If Kawhi Leonard (ACL surgery) is healthy, the Clips figure to be absolutely stacked. The Phoenix Suns (+900) are the sixth and final team with given better title odds than Philadelphia.

A few ways they can catch up

LB’s newest All-Star acquisition, and now resident cap wiz, Bryan Toporek walked us through a few ways the Sixers could get the Non-Taxpayer’s Mid-Level Exception.

That’s the type of deal they might now try to utilize on a player like Miami’s P.J. Tucker, or anyone who might command eight-figures on the open market. After Tucker opted out of his 2023 salary, Keith Pompey reported the former Raptor, Rocket, and Buck may receive an offer from Philadelphia in that $10M range.

Assuming the 37 year-old has more in the tank, precisely what about this guy doesn’t scream “dawg they need?” I’ll wait.

Toporek outlined a hypothetical framework where Harden could earn about $41M in 2023, allowing his team to snag a pair of helpful roster exceptions, while ultimately “salary dumping” Furkan Korkmaz, set to earn $5M:

But if Harden’s deal wound up as low in year one as Windhorst suggests, they might not even have to salary dump anyone; something the team is apparently loathe to do anyway. But maybe they’d change their tune if the right player came along.

So there’s plenty of ways this can go now. If Harden accepts a low enough figure, they may have a $10.3M and $4.1M roster spot to chase free agents with. They could consider sign-and-trades.

There is reportedly interest from the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers on Matisse Thybulle.

And who knows, if the Mavericks are preparing to lose local star (from his Villanova days) Jalen Brunson, (sounds like he’ll be joining the Atlantic Division Knicks) maybe Mark Cuban’s squad could look to make a splash acquisition in someone like Tobias Harris to complement Luka Dončić.

While Mavs’ wing Dorian Finney-Smith would be a dream fit in Philly, Dallas’ GM Nico Harrison likely wouldn’t part with him. But what about Reggie Bullock ($10M)?

Fans can now peruse the free agent pool for $2M vet min deals, $4M BAE’s, $6M TPMLE’s or $10M NTMLE’s, wonder about sign-and-trades, or just cook up some old-fashioned blockbusters.

Book mark out free agent tracker and follow along daily.

The only thing for sure is that Morey and Brand will not be sleeping much. Oh right and De’Anthony Melton, you ARE a 76er!

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