After all they’ve been through, it’s pleasantly surprising to see the Philadelphia 76ers having the best record in the NBA over the last few games.
The James Harden saga loomed large during the off-season and in the buildup to the regular season, creating an awkward situation for everyone invovled. The uncertainty certainly didn’t do any favors for new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, who was trying to implement his system for 2023-2024. Ditto for the players not named Harden, regardless if they were involved in the trade rumors or not. Even when he wasn’t on the court or even with the team on the road, Harden was still the subject of discussions surrounding Philadelphia.
Thankfully, it lasted for only a week.
As November arrived, Harden, P.J. Tucker, and Filip Petrusev, were traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, KJ Martin, and a bevy of draft picks and swaps. One can also say, though, that the huge burden that came with dealing with James Harden was lifted off the Sixers’ shoulders.
Philadelphia was in the midst of a two-game winning streak when Harden left, and now that unbeaten run has stretched to eight games, with the latest coming against the Indiana Pacers.
Tyrese Maxey continued to run free and dropped a career-high 50 points on the Pacers. It was an all-around performance, though, as he had seven rebounds, five assists, and three blocks in his role as a tormentor to Indiana.
Meanwhile, reigning MVP Joel Embiid had a strong night himself with 37 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. More and more he looks elated to have a teammate that just wants to play basketball and win games.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Sixers were able to play how they wanted to play and even the incoming players from the Harden trade fit in well despite the quick turnaround. With the drama gone, the only awkwardness left is how everyone is working to adjust to their roles and the tendencies of those around them. It’s likely that Nurse will continue to do some experimentation here and there with his rotation, but it’s safe to say that whoever will end up as a starter will have to be ready for at least 30 minutes of game time.
Harden’s departure has been a major factor for Philadelphia’s current run, but it’s not the only one. Let’s not forget that Embiid, Maxey, and Tobias Harris have been with the Sixers for quite some time, so the chemistry built over the years has been bent and never broken. In a league like the NBA, where player movement has become a current occurrence, stability has been a barometer for success. The last four NBA champions needed around two seasons together before winning a title, with the defending champion Denver Nuggets having been together for more than five years prior to their breakthrough title. Perhaps the same is brewing with the Sixers?
Of course, Philadelphia’s outlook rests on the health of Embiid’s shoulders. His MVP campaign was one of relatively good health and given the continued emergence of Maxey and the supporting cast, Embiid can afford to rest in whatever way the Sixers deem necessary.
The sun has shone on the Philadelphia 76ers, more so now that the James Harden era has come to an end. Now, basketball is truly the only agenda and if things fall into place, an NBA championship could very well return to the City of Brotherly Love.