By pulling off this trade, the expectation was that the Sixers could compete for a championship, but it all fell apart in the second round against the Miami Heat.
Harden has been very up and down with Philadelphia as there are some games where he looks like the Harden of old, and then there are others where he looks like his best days are long behind him.
His playmaking ability is still top-tier, but his scoring has become very inconsistent, and that dates back to him joining the Nets. Harden is due for a massive contract extension, and now there are questions about whether it’s worth handing that out or not.
If Embiid’s initial plan came into fruition, then the Sixers wouldn’t be in this situation according to Bill Simmons. Simmons claimed on his podcast that Embiid didn’t initially want Harden to come over in the trade, and his first choice was Bradley Beal.
Was Harden Always the Plan?
At this stage in their respective careers, Beal very well could’ve made more sense for the Sixers, but Harden has always been a target of Sixers general manager Daryl Morey.
“I would bet money on, If I had to bet… If there was an 8-1, 7-1 odds on a sign-in trade for Bradley Beal and James Harden, I would bet on that,” Simmons said. “That’s who Embiid wanted in February, nobody believed me. I think that’s what they wanted all along. Beal got hurt, and Embiid begrudgingly accepted the Harden trade.”
Embiid hasn’t given any indication publicly that this was the case, but he did mention how the Sixers didn’t get the Houston version of Harden after the team was eliminated from the playoffs.
“Obviously, since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a playmaker,” Embiid told reporters at the time. “I thought at times could’ve been, as all of us, could’ve been more aggressive.”
It’s clear the Sixers want to capitalize on their championship window with Embiid being in MVP-form at the moment, so the Harden trade might end up burning them. There’s no way of knowing how anything would’ve played out since it’s all in the rearview mirror, but it’s an interesting scenario to ponder with Beal on the roster.
Harden is Staying
Harden still has a player option he can pick up to stay with the Sixers for at least another year, and he’s already told reporters he’ll be sticking with the team.
“I’ll be here,” he said after the Heat eliminated them.
What’s not guaranteed is who his supporting cast will be going into the next year. Tobias Harris is a big trade candidate as he’s effectively become the fourth option for the team, and his contract has become an albatross. He’s a player who is quite productive, but he might be better suited on another team so the Sixers can turn his big contract into more pieces.
Philadelphia has an expensive payroll, so adding effective pieces will be tough for them. If Harris isn’t moved, then the Sixers will have their work cut out for them when it comes to making upgrades.