National NBA Writer Subtly Hints at James Harden’s Likely Sixers Future

CBS Sports' James Herbert subtly hinted that the Sixers can retain James Harden in free agency

Getty James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Most national NBA pundits share the stance that James Harden is more than likely leaving the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency — but CBS Sports’ James Herbert reacted to Nick Nurse’s recent hiring as head coach, writing as though Harden would be back in a Sixers uniform in 2023-24.

“Does Nurse expect Tyrese Maxey to hold his ground against bigger players as well as [Fred] VanVleet does? Will he ask Harden to study OG Anunoby’s isolation defense or tell Tobias Harris he has to cover ground like [Pascal] Siakam? Unlikely,” Herbert wrote on May 31, suggesting Harden will be to Nurse in Philadelphia what Anunoby was to Nurse in Toronto.

A Harden departure in free agency wouldn’t open up free agent spending for the Sixers, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. So, the best-case scenario for the Sixers, according to SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers, would be for Harden to pick up his player option and hope a proven new coach can bring him, Joel Embiid and a likely revamped supporting cast to heights that Doc Rivers, who was fired May 26, never did.

James Harden Decision Determines Franchise Direction

What Harden decides to do by June 29 will determine how aggressive the Sixers will be in building an immediate contender with Nurse at the helm and Embiid under contract for up to four more years.

Re-signing with Philadelphia could have Daryl Morey, the Sixers’ president of basketball operations, looking to find a third star to pair with the team’s two former MVPs, with Trae Young, Damian Lillard, and Karl-Anthony Towns all being called “trendy offseason names” by CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn. Other players mentioned by Quinn who could be on the move in the offseason include Chicago Bulls stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

Harden’s spurning the City of Brotherly Love would make things more complicated, though. The front office would still have to find more help for Embiid, but could have to sacrifice depth to replace a player with a 25% usage rate. Instead of trading multiple assets for a star, the Sixers would possibly need to pivot and trade one player — be it Harris, P.J. Tucker or De’Anthony Melton — for multiple rotation players.

Harden’s decision is the biggest fork in the road the team has faced since Jimmy Butler’s free agency in 2019. The Sixers must navigate it wisely to avoid beginning the next “Process” prematurely.

Sixers Could Pursue Sign-&-Trade for Fred VanVleet: Report

ClutchPoints’ Brett Siegel reported that unnamed sources said VanVleet, who played for Nurse on the Raptors, has “emerged as a potential replacement for Harden this offseason.”

“Unless they were to move contracts around prior to the start of free agency, the Sixers may not have the ability to sign VanVleet outright, making a sign-and-trade with the Raptors the most likely path to them landing him this offseason,” Siegel wrote.

Siegel listed several different members of the Sixers roster who’d make sense in such an offer.

“P.J. Tucker is set to make $11 million next season before having a player option next summer, while Tobias Harris is entering the final year of his contract valued at $39.2 million,” Siegel prefaced before saying, “Both players would be key options for the Sixers to potentially deal in a sign-and-trade to make the money work. De’Anthony Melton at $8 million and Furkan Korkmaz at $5.3 million are two other cost-saving options as well.”