With training camp on the horizon, the 76ers’ organization have more questions than answers. The team will return their core of Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris. They have lost the services of Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Shake Milton, who were key contributors off the bench. However the biggest change has been the hot and cold nature of James Harden.
First and foremost, he opted into his $35.6 million contract option for the 2023-24 season. He however did this with the notion that he would be traded to a team of his choice, which has been reported to be the Los Angeles Clippers. As things stand currently — like it or not — he is obligated to enter this upcoming season in a 76ers uniform.
This might sound eerily familiar to the tune of how things transpired with Ben Simmons. To make things even more interesting, it was Harden and Simmons who were traded for one another in the first place. Now Philadelphia finds itself back at the beginning, with the drama, fines and uncertainty.
Both have proven to be great players, just as they have shown to be inconsistent in the playoffs, when things matter the most. When things are good, they have been great with Harden leading the league in assists this past season with 10.7 per game. He became the first member of the 76ers to earn that title since Wilt Chamberlain in the 1967-68 season. His ability to create his own shot, play the pick-and-roll with Embiid and create quality opportunities for others have given fans a glimpse of what could be.
Nonetheless, the opposite side of that coin points right back to the training camp saga from two years ago, when both Simmons and the 76ers’ front office could not align or find common ground. Discord in the front office can often lead to poor performance on the court. Championship-caliber teams are winners from the top brass, down to the playing surface, and locker room attendants. A champion mindset is fostered throughout the franchise and it results in consistency, which opens the door for winning.
Embiid will embark on the upcoming year having gotten married this past summer and looking to build upon a stellar MVP performance and league scoring title. Coach Nick Nurse will work to establish a defensive-focused team that plays through Embiid.
Newcomers Patrick Beverly and Mo Bamba will add some depth off the bench as well as a strong defensive presence. The roster has changed much more than it should have, however there have been things outside of the 76ers’ control that has led to this outcome.
Ben Simmons should have never forced his way out of Philadelphia. The team had a foundation built on players who could play well together, and with another year or two, they could have exceeded the expectations placed upon them. It is difficult to first establish a starting group who can get the wins and results. It is even more difficult to have a bench that knows their role — and most importantly, you need to combine a great team with perfect health in the playoffs.
The Sixers are unfortunately in familiar territory with a disgruntled All-Star guard, a few weeks before training camp, media day and the preseason. Harden can absolutely hold out. The NBA collective bargaining agreement states that a player cannot enter free agency the next year if he has missed 30-consecutive days. So, if he decides to not attend camp, he would do so to his own detriment. If he does show his face, will he give his best effort or become a distraction?
The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same. This fanbase has endured a lot, and here’s to hoping things get sorted out, sooner rather than later.