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June 30, 2022

Eytan Shander: Sixers destined for a second-round exit with this core

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James-Harden-Sixers-NBA-Playoffs-05022022-UST Sam Navarro/USA Today Sports

James Harden throws up his hands in frustration.

Wait. Is this it?

The Sixers reluctance to move away from anything problematic after another season ending in failure is hurting no one more than Joel Embiid.

Period.

I have maintained even through criticism that I am a fan of Mr. Daryl Morey and will continue to be despite areas of team building where we disagree. He is an outside thinker with a track record of making big decisions, sometimes in a timely manner depending on circumstances.

With that said, it appears that the Sixers strategy this offseason is based on some Sixers Twitter theory that if Embiid were healthy last year, the team would have swept Golden State. While this may work for @JawnsonvilleBraughts9834023, it doesn’t for Morey.

As we see countless times with polls to action, be it in the political or sports world, the outrage sparked on social media rarely – if ever – carries over with such furor into the real world. It doesn’t mean the issues being “outraged” over aren’t real, but the forum is a metaphor for when your parents would write an angry letter, then wait an hour and decide not to send it.

I’m not sure what exactly is behind or governing the current set of circumstances with the Sixers, but it feels like it’s being concocted off the back of a napkin. The Atlanta Hawks just made a huge trade, and if you are already trying to downplay the impact of someone like Dejuante Murray, you need to start watching more than the Sixers.

Period.

Reading the market is what makes Howie Roseman one of the best general managers in the NFL – when he’s at his best. Roseman can read free agent markets and draft markets; he’s been able to not only maneuver them, but also profit by getting ahead of future markets.

The Sixers appear to be doing something, well, different. James Harden had some good qualities last year, specifically meshing exceptionally well with Embiid on the pick and roll. But be in health or age, it wasn’t enough. Teams were throwing enough at Harden to nullify him, while begging anyone other than Embiid to beat them.

What’s changed? De'Anthony Melton is a great role player, but he’s not that guy. Neither is P.J. Tucker.

You know who is? Tyrese Maxey.

“But hold on a second, Shander, Maxey blossomed with the spacing provided by Harden – you even gave out Maxey three-point bets every game!”

That is true. Maxey benefited from Harden’s ability to create space, exponentially more than what we saw with Ben Simmons. But that’s just it. Our only comparison is what anyone saw with someone like Simmons versus Harden, two extreme ends of a rather large middle pool.

I asked on twitter - @shandershow – who has a better chance of making the All-Star team this year, Maxey or Harden? But I think now the better question is who would you rather have alongside Joel Embiid for the next 5 years, James Harden or Dejounte Murray?

You took too long.

Bringing back Tobias Harris and Doc Rivers, adding guys like Melton and Tucker (both of whom I like here) just isn’t enough. The Hawks read the market and took advantage of the Spurs wanting to start over and willing to trade Murray for cheap.

Bringing back James Harden just isn’t enough. We simply don’t know what that contract will mean after a couple of years. “win now” doesn’t always mean stack as many 30+ guys on the team as possible. We saw how much needing to gel as a team means for any newcomer, so by adding Tucker and bringing back Harden, the team is now locked into “win now or start over” mode.

This is the risk in stacking shaky or older veterans around Embiid with hopes it pushes a team over the top. Even though other teams – like Milwaukee – can easily say they would have been better without major injury, or teams like Atlanta can bounce back from disappointment with a pretty significant trade.

It appears NBA free agency is truly the Sixers way of manifesting running it back, with hopes that the team just has a healthy MVP in Embiid.

Does that truly give you confidence that they can win a championship next year or in the next two years? They have to move Harris and Thybulle for someone younger than 30 years old, a young talent that can grow with both Embiid and Maxey, while giving them a shot to be better than last year.

If you can’t do that, then don’t do what they are currently doing, which is asking people on this team to do something they haven’t done before, or in a long time – bucking a serious trend. Embiid has never been to the NBA Finals, and by adding Melton and Tucker, the hope now is asking him to not only get there, but to win it. Doc Rivers hasn’t been to the Finals since 2010. The Sixers are now asking him to get back to the Finals and win it. Same with Harden who has been absent from that stage in a long time.

This is a dangerous pathway to walk by locking so much into Harden at his age and stage of his career, a proven veteran but still older in Tucker, and asking a role player like Melton to take on a larger role. That’s basically were we stand right now with the lackluster moves this team has made to date.

I would be totally okay with the Sixers moving on from Harden today and still making a deal with Harris/Thybulle, understanding that they can now be major players in the market with a huge anchor here in Embiid. That isn’t because I don’t like Harden or anything nonsensical like that, I just don’t like the idea of him being the second option at that amount of money.

It appears this is the pathway for now. While I am not in favor of it nor the decisions being made by the person in charge, I certainly respect his ability to pull out of a bad choice to where it won’t hurt the team long term.

It feels like the Sixers and Embiid are destined to be a second-round exit so long as they keep this core, and that sucks for the big man.


Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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