James Harden opted into his contract and asked for a trade, sending the Sixers’ offseason into a tailspin. Now it’s impossible to know quite where things stand. One day we’re hearing the Sixers want the 10-time All-Star back, the next Harden is calling Daryl Morey a “liar” for apparently promising to trade him but that hasn’t happened since the Clippers don’t appear very interested in acquiring James, and well.... yeah.
But with all of the swirling uncertainty in mind (including whether or not Harden will actually be on the team and if so will he actually play or hold out, and if he plays will he actually try hard or just embarrass himself and flop around) the ESPN staff tackled the difficult job of trying to project this volatile tinderbox of a franchise.
According to the recent ESPN ranking, the Philadelphia 76ers are expected to finish with the fourth-best record in the East:
1. Boston Celtics: 55-27
2. Milwaukee Bucks: 54-28
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: 50-32
4. Philadelphia 76ers: 47-35
5. Miami Heat: 46-36
6. New York Knicks: 46-36
The play-in group
7. Atlanta Hawks: 41-41
8. Brooklyn Nets: 39-43
9. Indiana Pacers: 38-44
10. Orlando Magic: 38-44
As you can see, the Boston Celtics take the top spot over the Milwaukee Bucks. But Giannis and co., who locked up the No. 1 seed a season ago, are right there in second.
The Sixers, who finished No. 3 a year ago, now slip below Donovan Mitchell’s Cavaliers squad. One would guess it’s these questions about Harden that forecast the team dipping a few games below 50, otherwise, you’d figure a reigning MVP in Joel Embiid might get a tad more respect in that win column.
Here was how ESPN explained their projections for the Cavs, Sixers and Heat:
“Our panel is high on the young Cavaliers, despite a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of the Knicks. With a young core of Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, we project a No. 3 seed.
And despite the off-court spectacle that surrounds the Sixers, MVP Joel Embiid keeps Philadelphia in the mix as an inner-circle contender in the East.
Coming in fifth are last season’s Eastern Conference champions, who despite returning all five starters might have a completely different look if they ultimately land Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.”
And now we get into the bottom group:
The bottom five
11. Chicago Bulls: 37-45
12. Toronto Raptors: 36-46
13. Charlotte Hornets: 30-52
14. Detroit Pistons: 26-56
15. Washington Wizards: 24-58
The Sixers already watched Bradley Beal’s trade request from Washington come and go without feeling motivated to offer Tobias Harris for Embiid’s long-time training partner. Beal is now on a Suns team already featuring Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton; they certainly look poised to make some noise out West.
But if the Bulls really struggle to this degree might Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley begin to take calls about moving a high-paid player like Zach LaVine? Is there a world where OG Anunoby lets the Raptors’ management in Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster know he wouldn’t ultimately like to re-sign with them, seeking a trade before the February deadline?
Plenty of questions for us on the horizon. But sometimes it feels like we’re never going to get answers. I guess we’ll at least learn if Harden intends to suit up soon enough. Good thing the Eagles are back, just in case this thing goes south for Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.