When last we got to watch Sixers basketball, it was a sad, unceremonious end as Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and co. were trounced in the deciding Game 7 of the East Semifinals.
Jayson Tatum dropped 51 points and capped a dominant, clutch performance with 13 boards and five dimes.
After dominating in Games 1 and 4, with a pair of 40-plus point gems, then helping facilitate a monster Game 5 team win, which sent the series back to Philadelphia for a potential closeout Game 6, The Beard went out with a whimper down the home stretch. The former Thunder, Rocket and Net shot just 7-of-27 from the floor in the Sixers’ final two playoff games. He was 1-of-11 from distance and recorded 10 turnovers to his 14 dimes in Games 6 and 7. Fans are still not over it.
It wasn’t pretty, and no doubt that all played a part in Harden not commanding the type of contract he was seeking from either Houston or Philadelphia last month.
And when the Sixers went silent on Harden in the days ahead of his opt out/in date, he chose to pick up his $35.6M option. He’s now on an expiring deal and the Sixers have a few options.
They could trade Harden before the season begins, avoiding a potentially awkward training camp and tension-filled start to the Nick Nurse era, they could trade him during the season, or they could not trade him at all.
How willing he would be to go along with the second and third options, we’ve yet to see. Harden has a history of getting his way by moping around and not playing his best when he wants a change.
Daryl Morey’s relationship with the superstar, former league MVP and three-time scoring champ is reportedly fractured. But complicating matters is that the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, would apparently prefer Harden stick around.
Nobody in the front office wants to further disappoint Embiid, who has endured as much nonsense from owner Josh Harris’ organization over his career as perhaps any other superstar in the league has had to deal with.
The team’s owners ousted former GM Sam Hinkie. He is the same President who once believed in Embiid enough to draft him despite injury, provided the team with picks that were later used (by other execs) to select Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons and Mikal Bridges, and provided the role players useful enough to also trade for an All-NBA talent like Jimmy Butler. With cap space on top, they could have built a potential champion if not dynasty. Instead, Joel has had to watch almost all of that stuff walk out the door with less and less to show for it by the day.
So what’s the team to do?
Much of that depends on the incoming offers for an iconic talent in his now waning years. It’s not a bad guess that the Clippers would be willing to offer Philadelphia one of their two future first-round picks and a few salary-matching players for James.
But apparently, they’ve yet to put coveted wing Terance Mann on the table thus far. Should they eventually opt to do so, perhaps that would change the equation for Morey, who insists on maintaining the team’s current title probabilities.
Morey doesn’t want to do anything that would diminish their shot to hoist that 2024 Larry O.B. And moving The Beard for a collection of names like Marcus Morris, Nic Batum and Robert Covington would not seem to move the needle in the right direction for the Sixers; even if the draft capital it came attached with granted them more options, getting intentionally worse during one of the few remaining prime years of a generational talent like Joel is a tough pill to swallow.
If L.A. wanted to truly go “all in” they could construct a deal that looks something like this below, courtesy of Fanspo’s Trade Machine:
By L.A. including Morris, Covington (both expiring) and Mann, taking back Harden and Montrezl Harrell, the money matches up. The Clippers would likely be loathe to include both of their remaining future picks and Mann, but this is probably the type of framework Morey might just feel compelled to accept. Maybe there’s a compromise somewhere in there with Mann and one future first, who knows? If L.A. offered me the deal above, I’d certainly take it. If they only offered one pick, it’s a closer call.
Morey would be recouping valuable draft capital he could then bundle with his own remaining future first-round pick this coming year; or he could wait until NBA Draft Day 2024 and ship out a juicy four total first-round picks, while also looking to be a key player during free agency (depending on what happens with P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, and others, of course).
Balancing winning this coming year with restocking the team’s talent coffers is one sticky wicket. And of course there are other teams who could always decide they’d like to add Harden once something changes by Christmas. Would Chicago part with star guard Zach LaVine? Could the Sixers get the draft picks they’d need to land LaVine from L.A. and rout them to Chicago along with Tobias Harris?
Would the Sixers be interested in adding Tyler Herro in a larger Damian Lillard deal? Would they seek to land Damian Lillard themselves, even if Dame didn’t want to be here and it meant parting with Tyrese Maxey (as well as Harris and draft capital)? If so, would Harden still find himself on the move or would he stick around? Would Dame’s presence potentially change his mind?
There’s so, so many things to consider. If you stick with Harden, even if he played hard and played well, you’d be risking losing him for nothing down the road. Unless of course, you offered him an extension next summer (lol).
But let’s crowdsource and see where we as an L.B. community think this is all headed.
In case you want to check our progress, we’ve been really, really sharp as a group on these prediction polls, correctly predicting when Ben Simmons would be traded, roughly how much Harden would earn and how many years his 2022 Sixers’ contract would run for, etc.
Without further ado....
Do you think James Harden will be traded?
This poll is closed
Yes, before the season begins
Yes, sometime during the season
No, he’ll be here through the Feb. 2024 trade deadline