Photos have recently emerged of a trimmed down James Harden working out that will only help build excitement for the Philadelphia 76ers’ fanbase.
It is an encouraging sight, given that fitness should be a priority for Harden as he is now in the tailend of his prime as he turns 33 years old next week. More importantly, a bounce back season is warranted from him in the wake of his disappointing play after being traded to the Sixers before last season’s trade deadline.
While Harden’s statistics were quite decent after being acquired by Philadelphia, where he averaged 21 points, 7.1 rebounds, 10.5 assists, and 1.2 steals in 21 regular season outings, the sky-high expectations that he set for himself during his prolific run with the Houston Rockets left much to be desired from the 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player.
The 10-time NBA All-Star had noticeably fallen off even before becoming a Sixer and has not been the same dominant force following his departure from the Rockets in January 2021.
During his time at Houston, Harden evolved into one of the most feared offensive weapons in the league after spending the first three seasons of his career as the sixth man of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged at least 25 points in each of his eight full seasons with the Rockets, highlighted by his 2019 campaign where he put up 36.1 points per game in 78 appearances.
However, it was all downhill for Harden after he came into training camp prior to the ‘20-’21 season out of shape after his request to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets was not immediately granted. He wound up playing only eight games for Houston that season as he eventually got his wish and established a Big Three with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, this union was doomed from the start. They only managed to play 16 games together over the course of their 13 months as Nets teammates due to injuries and Irving’s reluctance to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
A few months after the Rockets traded him away, Harden suffered a hamstring injury which some believed was attributed to the poor shape that he was in to begin the season. He re-aggravated it in the second round of the 2021 NBA playoffs and has not been the same player since.
If Harden’s offseason regimen can get him back, or even just close, to the level that he showed during his time at Houston, there is reason to believe that Philadelphia can legitimately compete for the NBA title this season.
The pairing of a healthy Harden and Joel Embiid is among the best one-two punches in the NBA today. The respect that a fully healthy Harden commands from opposing defenses is like no other and, in turn, amplifies his elite passing ability. He will not be short of targets with the Sixers as Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris are more than willing recipients of his assists. The offseason addition of Harden’s Rockets running mate PJ Tucker will boost their defense as well.
Embiid was second in last year’s NBA MVP race and should make another strong push for the award, especially if he can consistently feed off Harden throughout the season. The attention that the 7’0 center commands in the post will also benefit Harden and this mutually beneficial relationship can only grow stronger with more floor time together.
Harden’s play, aside from Embiid’s health, may very well dictate the ultimate ceiling of this Philadelphia team. If the photos from this offseason are any indication, a return to form for the NBA 75th Anniversary Team member is right around the corner. There is no better time to strike than this season for Philadelphia as it seems like the Eastern Conference is, once again, wide open for the taking.