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Attempting to figure out the Sixers’ offseason plan and what we know so far

If re-signing James Harden is “Scenario A,” what the hell is “Scenario B”? How much faith do the Sixers have in Tyrese Maxey? What could a potential Tobias Harris trade net and is it something the team is exploring?

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers - Game One Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It’s nearly the end of June and we have little clarity on what the Sixers will actually do this offseason.

We heard President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey say at his end-of-season presser that re-signing James Harden, who is expected to opt out any day now, is “Scenario A” for the team’s offseason plan.

When it comes to “Scenario B,” we don’t know much — but we have a pretty good idea of what the Sixers won’t do.

So, what is the best course of action? Does Harden give them their best shot at a title? What’s the contingency plan if Harden is not back? Will they move Tobias Harris’ expiring contract? Is a “gap year” on the table?

Let’s dive in.

Re-signing Harden is ‘Scenario A’ — should it be?

There are many fans that fall into the category of Do not re-sign James Harden under any circumstance! A couple of those folks contribute to Liberty Ballers.

It’s fair. Harden has only made it past the second round once in the last 11 years. The last time he made it to the conference finals was 2018. His performances in Games 6 and 7 against the Celtics left the taste of a vinegar-flavored Sour Patch Kid in Sixers fans’ mouths.

With all that said, he is the best option for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to compete for a title in 2023-24.

And the Sixers continued priority is to bring Harden back. The team is looking to do so on a contract that adequately compensates Harden but doesn’t hurt their flexibility moving forward, per a league source.

As the offseason trudges on and the rumors keep flying, it feels less and less likely that Harden will receive a max contract offer — from the Sixers or the Rockets. What many painted as almost a done deal with The Beard returning to Houston seems far from that now.

If the Sixers are able to re-sign Harden with a contract similar to what he signed last offseason (maybe more like two years and an option in the $35 million AAV range), it could potentially leave them wiggle room to make other moves. If they can move the expiring contract of Harris (more on that later), they could potentially access the Non-Taxpayer Midlevel Exception (around $12.2M). Even with Harden back and Harris remaining, they could have access to the Taxpayer MLE (around $5M). The caveat is we don’t know which of Paul Reed, Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels, and Shake Milton (listed in the order of likelihood they’ll return) will be back and what any of their deals would look like.

While it piques our curiosity to imagine what Morey’s pivot would entail, re-signing Harden — who did drop two 40-plus point games against Boston and had the Sixers five minutes away from the ECF in Game 6 — appears to be the best path forward.

What is ‘Scenario B’?

If the Sixers are unable to retain Harden, we’ve heard multiple reports that Daryl Morey could have a trick or two up his sleeve. We also know per reports that those tricks weren’t going to involve Bradley Beal, who is now Phoenix-bound, or Fred VanVleet, who might simply stay in Toronto.

The idea of a “gap year” will assuredly not appease the reigning MVP who will turn 30 this season. Being open to the idea of trading for Beal or doing a sign-and-trade for VanVleet using Harris’ contract seemed worthwhile. Beal is a player Embiid would seemingly want to play with. VanVleet can help Nurse usher in his schemes and culture.

But there are large financial risks involved with both players. Beal is in the second year of a five-year $251 million extension. He also possesses the only full no-trade clause in the entire NBA. If it didn’t work out in Philly, moving Beal would’ve proved to be extremely difficult. As for VanVleet, he recently opted out of a $22.8 million player option. You’d have to imagine his next deal would probably be something in the four-year, $120 million range. Both players will turn 30 soon and both come with injury concerns.

All of this to say, we have no idea what the hell “Scenario B” would entail, but it sure sounds like the Sixers would be banking on Maxey to ascend and for flexibility next offseason rather than some of the ideas thrown out there.

Maxey’s role and how the Sixers view him

Maxey, who is extension eligible on July 1, is heading into a pivotal season. If Harden doesn’t return and the Sixers don’t make a move for a veteran lead guard, Maxey is hurtling toward a potentially career-altering season.

Around this time last year, a source told Liberty Ballers that the Sixers view Maxey as a franchise cornerstone. A league source reiterated that stance this offseason. The team believes Maxey has All-Star potential. If Harden isn’t back, they’re really placing a ton of faith in the 22-year-old ascending to that level in his fourth NBA season.

The biggest thing the Sixers would miss with Harden gone and Maxey taking the reins is playmaking. The Beard led the league in assists last season and is one of the best playmakers in the NBA. Maxey has seen growth in that area, but still has a long way to go if he’s hoping to lead a title contender’s offense.

It was a point of emphasis for Nurse at his introductory presser when he was asked about Maxey and areas for improvement.

“There’s some specifics, I would say … being more of a creator,” Nurse said. “Well, what is creating? Creating is you’re scoring or you’re drawing more people than one, and then you’re creating for others. So can he make all the reads? I think that’s the first place I’d start offensively, is getting him more reps in the pick-and-roll so he can make the reads to all the other players on the floor, depending on what he sees.”

We all know Maxey has a lethal combo of blazing speed and elite shooting which he uses to score in bunches. What Nurse and the Sixers would need is for Maxey to use those traits to make his teammates better. Whether Harden returns, it’s nice to hear that Nurse will put Maxey in more pick-and-rolls, enabling him and the team to take lumps with it for a potential bigger payoff down the road.

One thing is certain: Maxey will work on it. He’ll have great resources to do so with Nurse and assistant coaches Bobby Jackson, a long-time NBA guard, and Rico Hines, considered an outstanding developmental coach.

If Maxey is able to put it all together, the gamble of handing him the keys and not finding a Harden replacement would look like a masterstroke. If it turns into more of a “gap year,” next offseason could get hairy ... unless Morey can use the aforementioned flexibility to shake things up. I’ll say that Maxey definitely feels like a player worth betting on.

Moving Harris’ expiring(!) contract

Hard to believe it’s been four years since the Sixers signed Harris to a near-max deal and let Jimmy Butler go in a sign-and-trade. In that time, Butler and the Heat have made the Finals twice and have three ECF appearances.

The Sixers ... well ... you know.

But Harris’ deal has now reached expiring status. It always seemed more movable once it got to that territory. With the new CBA set to kick in, we’ve gotten to a point where Harris’ contract might actually be a positive trade asset, as our Bryan Toporek outlined.

What a time to be alive!

There’s nothing imminent on Harris and the chances of him moving ahead of the draft are low, per a league source. Apparently the Sixers share the view that Harris should be seen as a positive asset and will only look to move the veteran forward in a deal that makes sense for them.

So, I won’t sit here and propose a bunch of fake trades (though admittedly I have as much fun as anyone dropping them in Fanspo), but we can look at the league landscape and see what could potentially be available.

What seems evident is that the Sixers won’t move Harris for a star — at least not any presently on the market. So, what can be had that would help the Sixers? Let’s dive in to some of the scuttlebutt.

Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports mentioned on the latest No Cap Space podcast that the Pacers are looking for a veteran power forward. (You should listen to the entire pod with Dan Devine, but our Dave Early also did a great job analyzing the slop nuggets). Harris certainly fits that bill. Indiana has plenty of cap space to work with. The Pacers could look at it as a test drive for a season before perhaps offering Tobias a lesser contract while maintaining his Bird rights next offseason. Buddy Hield is a player you’d have to imagine the Sixers would have interest in. A guy actively hunting 10 threes a game could do wonders for Embiid and the half-court offense.

The Hawks will likely prioritize moving off of multi-year contracts given their current cap sheet. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who still has four years left on his current deal) could be an intriguing fit for the Sixers. So too could Friends’ Central alum DeAndre Hunter, but the price tag might be higher. To a lesser extent, Dejounte Murray on an expiring deal might make some sense to pair with Maxey if Harden walks.

The Nets are confident they can re-sign forward Cameron Johnson, per veteran reporter Marc Stein’s Substack newsletter. In order to do that and make other moves, the Nets would have to move money. Stein mentions Dorian Finney-Smith as a trade candidate. Finney-Smith, who came over in the Kyrie Irving trade, could be very appealing to the Sixers. He offers size and defensive versatility. He had a down shooting season last year while dealing with a wrist injury, but hit 38.9 percent of his threes the previous three seasons in Dallas.

Plus, the Sixers could look to pounce on any potential fallout of the Beal trade — or maybe even a Zion Williamson trade.

Harris could be a great trade chip to have and Morey is an aggressive executive. The Sixers don’t have a ton of assets or ways to reshape the roster. This could be the best avenue.

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