By all indications, the Philadelphia 76ers should be taken seriously as a legitimate Finals threat. Philly boasts a top-ten offense and defense, matching the Boston Celtics of last season and Milwaukee Bucks of the season prior, both of whom went to the Finals.
James Harden and Joel Embiid still slip into the occasional isolation ball but are building chemistry by the day. De’Anthony Melton was a huge hit and his disruptive length has been a defensive boon for the starting five. And Tyrese Maxey is a luxury off the bench, a sparkplug scorer able to keep Philadelphia in games even when Embiid and Harden rest.
It’s all a very legitimate recipe for a deep playoff run.
But according to Warriors star Draymond Green, the Sixers aren’t one of the teams that will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season. When asked by Sixers legend Charles Barkley how Green views the Sixers, the Warriors star responded with some doubt.
“They (the Sixers) have a legit chance, but I don’t think they’re gonna win it,” Green said during the All-Star Game.
Harden’s Free Agency Link to Houston Growing Stronger
Though the Sixers have been an image of stability and calmness this season, the urgency is as high as ever for Philadelphia. The implications of an early playoff exit are dire for those both on the court and in the front office.
For instance, James Harden and the Sixers have a potentially major free-agency decision this summer.
If Harden opts out, he could make a nice chunk of change. But with which team depends on who you ask. Recently, Rockets beat writer Kelly Iko suggested that the chances of Harden leaving Philly this summer are higher than expected.
“I’m putting it at a seven out of 10. I think where there’s smoke, there’s fire. James loves this city. He loves those guys on the roster, the young players in Houston. He has ties to the city’s businesses. His home is here. Crazier things have happened, so, don’t call me crazy, but you might be seeing something different,” Iko said.
Reports of a potential Rockets-Harden reunion first came to light on Christmas Day, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggesting Harden’s camp might have an eye on the Lone Star State.
Iko’s report brings us back to the Sixers’ playoff urgency this season. If Philadelphia flames out, what’s to stop Harden from looking at Houston’s bright, young future and work on setting up a heartwarming homecoming this summer?
Embiid Predicted to Request a Trade
Harden isn’t the only flight risk in Philadelphia. In a New Year predictions column for The Ringer, Michael Pina projected Joel Embiid to request a trade from Philadelphia pending yet another disappointing playoff exit.
“After a playoff flameout in Round 1, the Sixers will be in shambles. Harden will sign with the Rockets, and Embiid will ask out. But, just as Brooklyn managed with Durant, Philadelphia won’t deal its perennial MVP candidate and the chaos will eventually blow over, with Embiid remaining on the only team he’s ever played for. (Bonus prediction: Embiid will not be an All-Star starter.),” Pina wrote.
Pina already got part of that prediction correct. Though he was a late injury addition to the All-Star starters squad (and first pick), Embiid was not initially named among the ten starters.