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Making the case for the Sixers to re-sign James Harden

James Harden’s production and ability to make life easier for everyone should make re-signing him the Sixers’ top priority this offseason.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Six Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Recently, we dove into every almost Sixer heading into free agency: Jalen McDaniels, Paul Reed, Georges Niang and Shake Milton. Their biggest free agent, James Harden, might have the most polarizing case on whether he should or shouldn’t be brought back on a new contract.

In this post, we’ll dive into several reasons why they should retain Harden, while my colleague Josh will dive into reasons they shouldn’t.

Reason 1: It isn’t easy to replace his production

The Sixers could just sign a new guy to replace Harden, right? Well, not really.

They would still be well above the salary cap and wouldn’t actually have enough space to offer anything outside of the mid-level exception or a minimum deal. Even if the Sixers generated a trade exception through a sign-and-trade, the odds of them replacing Harden’s line of 20 points and 10 assists are slim to none.

Outside of free agency, they’re paper thin on assets. Tyrese Maxey would definitely have value on the market, but he’s lining up to the be the feature of this team post-Embiid — whenever that may be. In regards to what they’d actually be willing to move, you’d be working with a distant first-round pick, a few second-round picks and Tobias Harris’ expiring salary.

Even in an “ideal” scenario where Harden leaves, you’d probably be looking at free agent Fred VanVleet — who is a good player, but he isn’t better than Harden and there would be size concerns with a FVV-Maxey backcourt. And that isn’t mentioning some injury concerns that would come along with it.

The truth is the Sixers don’t have the assets or money to replace Harden’s production this offseason without dealing Maxey or Joel Embiid. Speaking of Harden’s production...

Reason 2: Life for Embiid gets harder

Part of the reason Embiid won MVP last year was because of his developed chemistry with Harden. The pick-and-roll was unstoppable in the regular season and Harden spoon fed Embiid shots from where he was most comfortable. Take Harden out of the equation and the amount of playmakers on the roster would decline to practically zero.

Maxey is ahead of schedule with his development, however we’ve seen him struggle with being the main creator. Having him score 20 or more points a game while orchestrating the offense is a huge ask for any 22-year-old, no matter how good he is.

In the event Harden leaves, you’d be asking Embiid to do more creation for himself along with his teammates. Embiid’s capable of doing so, but we’ve seen in the past that he can wear himself out as the year goes on. This team can only progress with a healthy, fresh Embiid and they’ll need to do everything they can to help ensure he’s healthy moving forward.

Reason 3: The roster isn’t getting any younger

Most players peak from ages 27 to 30. Embiid will 30 next March and the roster features several key players above that age. Like it or not, the Sixers’ title window is now and it can rapidly shut with little to no notice. While a retool of a year or two might seem intriguing, it doesn’t guarantee anything moving forward.

Apart from Maxey, De’Anthony Melton and (maybe) Jalen McDaniels, all their key players are in their prime or twilight years. If Harden goes, you’d seriously have to weigh the future of players like P.J. Tucker if you’re entering a retool year.

Years ago, the Sixers accelerated their process partly due to Embiid’s long-term injury concerns. In recent years, he’s managed to stay healthy — and hopefully it stays that way moving forward. However, punting the remaining year of Embiid’s prime isn’t an attractive sell, especially with his injury history.

Reason 4: James Harden is #good

Playoff flameouts in Games 6 and 7 tainted what was otherwise a stellar year for Harden. He led the league in assists and was a mostly efficient scorer who shot the basketball extremely well. He also singlehandedly won the Sixers two playoff games with game-winners.

For most of the year, he was their second option and did extremely well in conducting their offense. His best years are definitely behind him, but he’s shown he’s an All-Star caliber player. Inconsistencies aside, he should be able to produce long-term.

Of course, there’s a price limit for most players and that certainly applies to Harden. But all of these reasons, along with additional considerations you can point to, make for a compelling case that the Sixers should do what they can to keep The Beard in Philly.

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