The James Harden Saga: My thoughts, feelings, and concerns when it comes to the 76ers

The 76ers were not a good offensive team last season. Their two stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have widely been debated as not being able to succeed together, mainly bc one is a center having to play with a point guard who won’t shoot. The team hired former Houston Rocket’s GM Daryl Morey and James Harden, a point guard who can shoot, requested a trade right after, and the flood gates opened.

Of course, from the beginning Harden and Philly were going to be linked together, also Harden apparently said he wanted to play in Philly.

Quick backstory

After going to an unprecedented small ball route halfway through the regular season, trading for and playing Robert Covington at the center, the Rockets again disappointed in the playoffs by losing to the much bigger, and eventual NBA champions LA Lakers in the second round.

Philly was built for the playoffs, and then got swept in the first round. It should be noted that Ben Simmons didn’t play due to injury, but the writing was on the wall, and it was clear that the bully ball big man line up they tried to create wasn’t going to work anyway. Brett Brown was let go, and the team went to find a new coach and planned on reshaping the front office.

Sixers hired Doc Rivers. Daryl Morey left Houston to spend more time with his family. However, the family time didn’t come to fruition because a few weeks later, Morey was being introduced as the new President of Basketball Operations of the Philadelphia 76ers.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook of Houston were requesting out.

Who is James Harden?

James Harden may go down as one of the greatest scorers we have ever watched in the NBA. Not only does he shoot the three at a high percentage and a high rate. James Harden can draw a foul like no other in the league and converts at over an 80% rate. James Harden has one of the most deadly and unstoppable step backs in the history of the NBA. James Harden is also a very underrated passer. Harden by all accounts is one of the more dynamic offensive players in the league, maybe ever.

James Harden has been to the finals once early in his career. He has been to the western conference finals four times, twice though when he was the main piece in Houston. Harden has never won a championship. To be clear, this should not be the end all be all when trying to figure out Harden, and his legacy. The western conference over recent memory has been so insanely good, how can you hold it against the guy because he couldn’t get past the Warriors? Or the Spurs? Or the Lakers? It is not a true measuring stick of what he brings to the table.

That said, I think it is a fair question to ask if there was a reason why Harden couldn’t get past these great teams, even once? Warriors were beaten during their time, and when you are a perennial MVP candidate, in theory, you should have a chance to win any series. So, was Harden just a victim of time and circumstance each time? Could they have beaten the Warriors if Chris Paul doesn’t get hurt? Again, when we talk about Harden these are all valid questions, but I will raise one more, did James Harden really do everything he could have done to really take that next step to beat a team like the Warriors?

Concerns around Harden

On the court come game day, you always knew what you were getting from Harden, buckets. And the guy is an iron man, he doesn’t miss games. The concerning part of James isn’t tangible really unless you really know Harden. Unless you are around him, a lot of it is speculative and rumors. It’s rumored that Harden likes to stay up late, he likes to have a good time. It’s rumored he has come to camp out of shape. Hard to play with? From the outside looking in, you can point to a carousel of teammates over the years that have come and gone, and none have worked out.

For now, let’s say the rumors hold water, and you package them together, you have a super talented player, but a bad teammate, bad work ethic, and a lack of true commitment and dedication to your craft. Does talent outweigh that enough to win? How long can he continue to play at a high level, as he gets older, under these same circumstances? Trying to play basketball the next day after going out in your 30s is way different than doing it in your 20s, even for guys like Harden. I mean, I guess he could be a rock star, but is that a bet a team should be willing to take?

The hardest part, as someone on the outside, is trying to filter what is true and what isn’t when it comes to this kind of stuff. How many times in the past have we seen reports be false? But how many times have they been right? How will we ever really know until the 30 for 30 comes out?

Finally, I think to myself, do all these concerns really matter if he is still able to put up the numbers he did? And I counter myself, how good would he be if these weren’t concerns? And then I think of A.I., and I get an eerie feeling in my stomach. And look the circumstances aren’t exactly the same, but it sounds familiar, right?

What does this all mean?

In my opinion, it means that trading for Harden can’t be thought of in a vacuum. It means that you have to access the risk-reward of giving up whatever you need to give up and relying on the hope that the concerns that aren’t concerning enough to outweigh the on court play that Harden brings. You have to take into account your team’s situation, your team’s depth, the personalities of the players you want to pair with Harden, and the culture you have established. Ultimately, it means that no matter how good of a basketball player James Harden is, trading for him isn’t a no brainer.

How do the 76ers fit in this?

We all know the 76ers went through one of the most controversial rebuilds in the history of sports. To be that open and blatant about losing, was something the sports world has never experienced before. And despite the backlash and outrage, despite Hinkie being forced out before he could finish his plan, The Process yielded the 76ers Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Since then the pressure was on the two young stars, or superstars, or all-stars depending on you’re definition of each and how you view both Joel and Ben. Not just normal pressure, the fallout to The Process was a lack of patience to get to the other side of the spectrum of the process.

Because of this sped-up process (for lack of a better word) of getting two young players to be centerpieces on a Championship team, it’s largely viewed that the two are simply underwhelming and can’t win together. If we believe this to be true, then a Harden trade makes sense, so that’s how the 76ers fit, not to mention that Daryl Morey conveniently was just the GM of the Harden-led Rockets?

So, done deal right? Let’s switch it up? Not so fast, are we sure we know what we have yet?

What are the Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the 76ers?

Let’s keep this easy, the two are really good young players with some pretty glaring and scary holes. But what else do we know about the two as a pair? Doc Rivers made it clear when he came here that those two win 65% of their games together. Cool, but what does that really mean? They play 20 minutes a game together, and how much of those regular-season games did they win on pure talent rather than together?

Recently, Ben Simmons said something really damning about his time playing with Joel. He said, ” I’m excited to run the pick and roll with Joel because I’ve never been allowed to do it before”. What? On the court these two together have been proven to be absolutely terrorizing statistically, but do we know if they ever were really given a real opportunity to build a true relationship on the court? With the hire of Doc Rivers, you should be able to assume that they are going to finally get that opportunity.

That leaves the rest of the team and the future of the organization. When they left the bubble, there would be no doubt that they should pounce on any James Harden trade they can, but circumstances changed. Doc and Morey bring a whole new element to the organization. The ability to move on from Horford alone was huge, but getting all expiring deals back, was even bigger. The ability to turn one season of Richardson into three of Curry, being able to use the full MLE next offseason, and getting lucky and have the wherewithal draft a kid like Tyrese Maxey. All of a sudden you go from a square pegged, cap-strapped to hell team, that would have to overpay for any guard let alone Harden, to a team with some options and a future.

A Harden trade isn’t something this team, or any, should shoot down no-questions asked, but the 76ers are in a position where they can afford to sleep a few nights on it.

My personal, and probably wrong, opinion. What would I do?

First and most importantly, Simmons is off the table. And not one of those negotiating off the tables but if Houston plays chicken enough and you cave. I am not ready to give up on Ben for an aging Harden, who will be here for two years, maybe three as long as nothing goes south.

But a trade for Harden, I would talk about. If I were the Sixers I’d push picks as hard as I could, which could ultimately lead to it not working out. I would think long and hard about how deep I’d go into my young talent until I say no. I believe there is a very good argument that at some point depth is more important than a third star, especially post KD Warriors.

And I’d gamble. I’d wait, as long as I could. Preferably to the deadline. And the end of last season, I think the majority of us were in agreement we wanted at least one season of these two under a different coach, right? Well, a guy like Harden becomes available and you may have to pivot, but give me half a season. And don’t panic, the offseason moves made to set this team up for future success, that was the case before we knew Harden was available. It will be after he isn’t anymore too.

The Sixers have a rare opportunity in my opinion to swing for the fence on this one. Do it on their terms, and if they strike out, they are still ahead in the game. You have to calculate these things, the risks of what the concerns around Harden brings plus what you have to give up for him, possibly mortgaging your future compared to what he brings on the court, might be closer to even than we think.

Is that kind of investment worth whatever is the reward that Harden brings? I’ll be honest I don’t know. I wish we could just wait till the deadline at least. However, one thing I am pretty sure of, is I am comfortable with the people making the decision, and that makes me feel better about the team’s future than any player that’s available.

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