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James Harden trade creates ample flexibility for Sixers

On Halloween morning, Philadelphia 76ers fans awoke to big news that was more treat than trick.

NBA: JAN 17 76ers at Clippers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your lives, Sixers fans. Whether you learned in the wee hours of the night, or woke up to texts and notifications from your friends, the James Harden trade request saga is finally behind us with the news that the veteran guard is being sent to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a seven-player deal.

Aside from the catharsis of no longer having to deal with the constant updates and non-updates of the ‘will they, won’t they’ between the Sixers and Clippers, this deal provides a lot of advantages for Philadelphia moving forward.

Let’s start with the fact that the deal brought back a bushel of stackable contracts and draft assets. One of the issues for the Sixers in terms of trade scenarios was they had a lot of either high value or minimum contracts, but not a lot of middle-of-the-road deals that are useful for salary-matching purposes in a trade. P.J. Tucker ($11.0 million) and De’Anthony Melton ($8.0 million) were the only ones in that sort of range. Melton is viewed as someone who obviously provides a ton of current on-court value and who the team would like to re-sign, so that left the team with only Tucker in this category. Now, they have Marcus Morris ($17.1 million), Nic Batum ($11.7 million), and Robert Covington ($11.7 million), a net of two additional middle-of-the-road contracts with Tucker’s departure. Not to discount the fact that these players are useful on the court to various degrees, but they’re very helpful to have on the books.

As for the draft assets, the Sixers are receiving the Clippers’ 2028 first-round pick, a 2026 first-round pick that will be the least favorable of a few that Oklahoma City own, the Clippers’ 2024 and 2029 second-round picks, and a 2029 pick swap. This haul is a nice boost for a pretty bare Sixers’ cupboard. Now, if any teams are looking to deal a disgruntled star or do a franchise reset, the Sixers have enough assets to meaningfully enter the conversation. Chicago’s Zach LaVine is the obvious name that comes to mind, but you never know what opportunities might spring up.

Looking forward a bit, this trade could be very helpful for Operation 2024 Cap Space. The team moves off of Tucker’s deal, which included an $11.5 million player option for next season. If Tucker were to pick up his option, (and strictly from a financial standpoint, I doubt a then-39-year-old would get more money in the open market), it could have put a serious crimp in the Sixers’ 2024 free agency plans. Meanwhile, all four contracts the Sixers received in return expire this season. Your mileage may vary on how excited you are about the idea of Philadelphia throwing max money at someone like OG Anunoby or a then-34-year-old Klay Thompson (assuming he declined his own player option), but the Sixers are certainly better positioned for whatever path they wish to take.

The deal opens other smaller opportunities as well. The Sixers will have the option to create a $9 million or $11 million trade exception. At the deadline, they could grab an expiring contract from a team trending towards missing the playoffs in exchange for a second-round pick. Alec Burks, Monte Morris, Thad Young, Delon Wright and Cedi Osman are a few names that might fit the bill. There’s also the possibility that 22-year-old KJ Martin is a player the Sixers would like to keep around, in which case having his Bird Rights would be helpful in re-signing him next summer.

Trading away James Harden is an obvious win from a vibes standpoint. The team can fully hand the keys over for good to Tyrese Maxey and the team doesn’t have this lingering distraction going on in the background. From a more tangible perspective, though, the deal also provides a lot of avenues in which this could be a win for Philadelphia, both on a medium- and a long-term basis. Daryl Morey was willing to embrace an uncomfortable situation for a few more months than some fans might have liked, but it looks like his patience was rewarded.

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