NBA Execs: Big Risk Pairing Joel Embiid & ‘Control Freak’ James Harden

James Harden, Nets

Getty James Harden, Nets

James Harden remains the 76ers‘ dream. But there are people in the NBA who believe such a move could have nightmare implications for some.

Philadelphia sources have readily indicated that Daryl Morey was hoping to bring Harden along from Houston when he left the Rockets and took over the Sixers’ basketball operation in November of 2020. A deal with Ben Simmons and Harden as principals never came to fruition — the Nets and Rockets made the deal — but there is renewed Harden hope in Philly.

The numerical basis for that is that Harden’s 2022-23 contract is a player’s option, so he can be free if he wants. He’s said recently he’ll explore the market, even if it leads him to stay in Brooklyn.

The other part of the equation is that things are nettlesome with the Nets. The Kyrie Irving saga is still playing out … well, playing on the road would be a more literal take. And if Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant stay together the rest of the season and fail to at least reach The Finals, will there be another reshuffling in the borough? Irving, by the way, has a player option for next year, too.

Veteran NBA writer Marc Stein reported last week that Harden has an, “openness to relocation this summer,” and at Bleacher Report, Jake Fischer noted that Harden, “has not enjoyed living in Brooklyn.”

The Sixers, meanwhile, seem to be pining for a Harden-Joel Embiid combination, and, on paper, pairing a scorer like Harden with a dominant big man like Embiid looks like a hit.

‘I’d Be Worried About How This Is Going to Go’

But would there be hoop harmony? Some wonder. And warnings have been transmitted.

“I’d be worried about how this is going to go for Joel,” said one league exec. “If James has realized that he has to conform his game to what he has around him if he wants to win, then you’d have a lot of talent there. But it would require sacrifice. Every team that wins has guys making sacrifices in their personal games.”

A Houston source questioned how Harden would be in Philadelphia, particularly when reunited with Morey.

“That wasn’t a good situation,” he said. “He had a strong relationship with Daryl. Things never worked with James and Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook or Dwight Howard. At a certain point you have to ask who was really the problem.

“If James gets to Philly, it could be a situation where Embiid’s complete game will depend on whether James wants to give him the ball or not — and James is a weird control freak. He will not throw him the ball at certain times in games just to let Joel know that, like, I’m the guy.”

Joel Embiid ‘Has Grown Up’

Said a Philadelphia source, “Joel had his own issues early on in his career, but Joel has grown up. He wants to win. I think that’s why he’s so frustrated with the Ben thing. He just wants to be with people who can play and who are committed to winning.”

There is much that needs to happen — or, as regards the Nets, NOT happen — before a Harden-Embiid coupling can come into better focus and become a more clear and present possibility. But there’s enough star power and connectable dots there to keep it a topic of conversation around the league.


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