After blowing a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers knew that they were in for a long summer.
Philadelphia’s elimination at the hands of Boston was the fifth time in the last six seasons that they were ousted in the second round. The fact that they came in with realistic championship aspirations in each season made their early exits even more painful.
Their offseason kicked off with a trade request from their 10-time NBA All-Star James Harden who took less money when he signed a new contract a year ago to help the Sixers fill out their roster. It has been reported that Harden’s preferred destination is the Los Angeles Clippers where he would complete an aging yet still fearsome Big Three with Kawhi Leonard and Paul Geroge.
However, a potential deal has been held up by the Clippers’ reluctance to part with their 26-year-old swingman Terance Mann.
The uncertainty with regards to Harden’s future with the team seems to have spilled over to the Sixers’ other superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid as well. Embiid recently made comments that he wants to win an NBA championship and it does not matter if he does it with Philadelphia or any other team.
The 29-year-old center immediately downplayed his remarks though which assuaged Sixers fans for the meantime.
Despite Embiid’s loyalty, it remains difficult to chart the course for this Philadelphia team until the resolution of the Harden situation. Given the history of the 33-year-old guard from his time with the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets–both of which came to an end following trade demands–having an unhappy Harden around when next season begins will be quite problematic.
Ultimately, the Sixers may have to give in and trade away Harden at a steep discount versus their current asking price. Harden’s age and the noticeable drop in his play in recent years definitely factors into rival teams’ reluctance to go all-in on a deal for him.
This will likely leave Philadelphia worse off than they were at the end of last season in terms of their chances to win an NBA championship. At the minimum, a Harden trade should net them a decent playmaker to fill his vacated role or a defensive-minded forward to help them slow down the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jimmy Butler in the East.
Any upside for the Sixers next season will depend on the improvement of incoming fourth-year guard Tyrese Maxey. Last year, the 22-year-old Maxey averaged a career-best 20.3 points per game on 48.1% field goal shooting. He must continue his upward trajectory and find another level if Philadelphia is to remain even a second tier contender in ‘23-’24.
Regardless of Embiid’s commitment to this team, these are challenging times for Philadelphia. The Process now seems like a distant memory and they seem to be closer to another rebuild than winning the NBA title. Their decision to employ Doc Rivers as their head coach from 2020 to 2023 may forever haunt them as it weighed down on their potential.
The Sixers will have to right their ship soon, lest they waste Embiid’s prime or even frustrate him enough that his trade demands will no longer be just a troll job.