There’s seemingly always one more twist or turn in the Philadelphia 76ers’ offseason sagas. James Harden has been a lightning rod for NBA gossip over the last three years or so, dating back to his sulky departures from both Houston and Brooklyn. He may be gearing up for another sulky departure here now, further cementing his pop legacy as an all-time great player who just seems to find ways of leaving his team on heartbreaking, disappointing and/or bitter terms. It’s not entirely fair to Harden to categorize him this way, but it’s often how he’s largely perceived and this latest conflict won’t help him there.
Oh right, it won’t help the Sixers either. Let’s hop around and look at some of the recent news clouding the atmosphere in Sixers-land these days.
For one, we heard Sixers’ Managing Partner Josh Harris claim Monday he still hopes the team can convince Harden to play for Philadelphia this season.
Harris also appeared the same day on the Monday Night Football on ESPN broadcast, chatting with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman about leading the group bid that finally purchased the Washington Commanders from Daniel Snyder.
The Sixers owner had Aikman and folks on Twitter laughing with this funny, awkward handshake moment:
Maybe it was Freudian that Harris opted for a surprise handshake, since we’ve all been talking about the possibility of Sixers’ handshake deals ever since Harden caused a firestorm last week.
The Beard recently called Daryl Morey a “liar” publicly at an event in China last week, prompting the NBA to reopen an investigation into the Sixers to see if they engaged in any illegal negotiations with the 10-time All-Star.
And Harden is apparently being fined $100,000 by the league office for his language.
But shortly after that news of the fine broke, the man set to earn a cool $36.5M this season, put up a video showing the world just how crushed he was by Adam Silver’s penalty:
So breathe easy those of you who remember the Timberwolves once getting docked a staggering, fan-base crushing, five first-round-picks over an illegal handshake deal, because it sounds like Harden is not actually alleging the Sixers did anything illegal — at this point.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne this past weekend:
“Nevertheless, Harden has privately indicated that his public comments calling Morey a “liar” on Monday morning had only been a response to Morey ending trade discussions with an expectation that Harden would start the season with the Sixers, sources said.”
I’m not sure that I totally buy Harden’s explanation here, but I love it anyway.
Would you, could you really be that upset if you requested a trade to one and only one team, learned the Clippers weren’t offering anything much of value in return, then didn’t get what you wanted within mere weeks of issuing your request? It’s quite the unreasonable position, even for a guy largely lacking public sympathy here (in part because dude chose to opt into his contract).
So maybe he does still feel he was misled by the team in some shady way but isn’t quite prepared to publicly accuse them of any franchise crushing crimes at this point? I don’t know, I’m just tinfoil hat spitballing here.
But that’s where things stand. And we have some perhaps educated guesses from NBA Insider Marc Stein, who dropped a Substack newsletter on us regarding recent reports and rumors.
“If the Sixers ultimately trade Harden for a draft pick-heavy package, my belief is that they would be doing so with the intent to flip those picks in a subsequent deal for a top-level player — not because they suddenly covet draft picks.
He said draft pick “HEAVY!!?” So you’re saying there’s a chance!?
“In other words: I don’t believe Morey secretly wants to pursue a “rebuilding” course, as has been suggested in recent days, because he never has before. It would be a complete detour from his careerlong philosophy to initiate a teardown that has the Sixers starting over.”
Stein’s intel is valuable because it clears up some confusion caused over the weekend when an apparently slanted report from Vince Goodwill of Yahoo Sports dropped with some… weird speculation.
In it, Goodwill seems to put forth a one-sided perspective on the issue; even Morey’s fiercest local critics might roll their eyes.
“Many around the NBA believe Joel Embiid will ask out sooner rather than later — and that a full rebuild is what Morey is covertly hoping for….
Harden will keep the pressure on Morey, who appears to be clueless as to how this type of distraction will affect the existing players on the roster should Harden arrive at training camp in early October….
[Harden carried] the Houston Rockets for nearly a decade and Morey has been the patron saint for a certain type of executive. But his blind spot has always been the people business.”
It’s a fun narrative from Goodwill and comes across as #HardenAgentPropoganda, but luckily Stein delivered some credible intel to help clear things up.
“The Sixers’ primary team-building objectives, as I understand them, are A) trying to find another star to fortify their Joel Embiid/Tyrese Maxey core and B) preserving next summer’s pathway to significant salary cap space with whatever they do.”
So if the Sixers could only get let’s say one first-round pick and some expirings out of L.A., it seems unlikely they’d pull the trigger. But what if they could get guard Terance Mann, a first-round pick, Robert Covington, Nic Batum and a couple second-rounders? Would they consider that, even if they didn’t have a way to simultaneously rout that package to Chicago for Zach LaVine or something? Could they get more in assets if they rerouted Mann?
And how does Joel Embiid feel about all this? Goodwill noted that many believe he’ll ask out from Philly “sooner rather than later.”
“I do believe that the Knicks and Heat are among the teams monitoring the situation because they would wish to be at the front of the line if Embiid did ask out….
It bears repeating that the Sixers aren’t trading Embiid unless Embiid forces them into it. Nothing close to that has happened — yet.”
So Stein’s intel is pretty interesting. It doesn’t exactly state that Embiid will not ask for a trade before the coming deadline or at any point during this season. But it highlights that the team would ideally like to find a trade that makes them as good or better this year, while also remaining cap-space players next summer. Perhaps they believe that’s their best path towards keeping Embiid feeling optimistic and invested in this process. DeMar DeRozan’s on an expiring deal in the Harden salary ballpark… just sayin.’
One thing we can agree on is that there’s never a dull moment around these parts, right? Agreed? OK, great. Shall we shake on it?