Once again, the Philadelphia 76ers have gone 0 days without being overly dramatic. Somebody change the sign. With James Harden calling Daryl Morey a liar and refusing to be a part of the same organization as him, we’ve reached the latest inflection point in Harden’s trade request saga. But guess what? Nothing about it actually matters (with one important caveat I’ll get to shortly).
Oh sure, drama is fun and we’ll all get our jokes off because the NFL is just starting preseason and the MLB pennant race is a few weeks away from heating up. But in terms of the trajectory of the franchise, nothing has changed. James Harden hasn’t now tanked his trade market, because well, there wasn’t a trade market, unless you count a handful of expiring end-of-bench guys from the Clippers. Other NBA executives have seen Harden request trades from his last three teams, witnessed the injuries start to pile up, and watched James turtle in elimination games in consecutive postseasons. They aren’t giving up anything of real value for six or seven months of that guy.
Even with a fully engaged Harden, this version of the “run it back minus some role players” Sixers were not actual contenders. The only thing that changes from that version of the Sixers to Harden either putting on a fat suit or sitting at home collecting fines is the team goes from a 3 or 4 seed and a second-round exit to a 6 or 7 seed and a likely first-round exit. (Hey, maybe Paul Reed’s contract won’t be guaranteed in future years. Take that, Danny Ainge!) On either path, the Sixers were playing out the gap year and striking with cap space next summer, maybe signing OG Anunoby, extending Maxey, and moving forward with those two and Embiid as the new big three.
However, let’s return to the one very important caveat that does matter: what does Joel Embiid think about all this? The reigning MVP has gone on the record as wanting Harden back, saying he hopes James’ “mindset can be changed.” So if Harden doesn’t come back and no magic solution emerges, resulting in one of Joel’s remaining prime years being spent on a treading water, not even fringe contender, where does Embiid place the blame?
Does he say I don’t understand why James didn’t just come back and play? We had a real shot last year, I would have seen what might have happened. Or does he have a phone call with Harden at some point, and James goes into why he believes Daryl is a liar, and that sits in the back of Joel’s mind whenever he and Daryl go play tennis. Is that enough of a tipping point for Embiid to finally get fed up with the situation in Philadelphia, asking for a trade to New York, Miami, or wherever?
Now, you might be in the camp that thinks the Sixers should trade Embiid, because you think he’ll never be healthy in the postseason and his value is at its peak so why not strike now before some combination of injuries and age erodes things. This franchise won’t have a contender around him in the next few years anyway, you might say. Even then, though, you’d agree that the last thing you want is Embiid requesting a trade, putting a list together of three teams he’ll play for and hemorrhaging any leverage for the organization in trade discussions. So whether you’re in that camp or the majority camp that wants Embiid as a Sixer for life, Joel releasing a trade request is the five-alarm fire the organization needs to avoid at all costs.
Has that situation moved slightly closer to reality since yesterday? Maybe. Only one man could really say. But as for non-Embiid-related angles to this whole James Harden situation, they’re just offseason kindling on the slop fire. So feel free to fire up the memes, but we’re looking to next July regardless of the outcome here.