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November 01, 2023

Trade grades roundup: How did the Sixers fare in the James Harden deal?

The James Harden saga is finally over, but did the Sixers gain the pieces and flexibility to become a better team out of it?

Everyone can breathe now. 

The Sixers finally reached a deal to send James Harden to the Clippers, and in exchange are a few draft picks along with a few bench players who could help them depth-wise immediately coming back. 

The fact that the summer-long saga is over now and they don't have to worry about it anymore is probably a win for the Sixers in its own right, but still, the day after was rife with analysis of who made out better from the deal between Philly, L.A., and even Harden himself. 

Keeping it purely to how the Sixers fared though, here's a roundup of how their return in the Harden trade is being perceived:


The Sixers did about as well as they could given the circumstances, according to ESPN. 

The keys to the backcourt have now officially been handed over to Tyrese Maxey with the trade, and the Sixers suddenly gained a lot more future flexibility to make moves by way of a few more draft picks and expiring salaries. 

Ideal? No.

But maybe this is what pushes the Sixers forward on a path that just wasn't there a week ago. 

From ESPN:

As compared to the team the 76ers have put on the court this season, they're undoubtedly deeper after this trade. They're also far more dependent on the duo of Embiid and Maxey for shot creation, and an injury to either of their stars could accelerate Philadelphia's timetable for making a deal using expiring contracts and the newly added picks.

Certainly, the best version of the 2023-24 Sixers involved Harden putting aside his differences with Morey and playing normally the rest of the season. It's impossible from the outside to say exactly how realistic that option was. If Philadelphia didn't believe that outcome was realistic, this version of the trade at least seems to spin Harden's value forward in a way that could help rebuild a championship contender around Embiid. (Harden's salary was $176.7 million, and combined with a tax bill of $19.8 million was costing the team $196.5 million total.) [ESPN+, $]

The Athletic: C-

The Sixers did about as well as they could given the circumstances, and this is a line that means different things to different people. 

For Zach Harper over at The Athletic, it's not so much that the Sixers made a bad trade, but more that it felt like they settled just to get the whole thing over with. 

Wrote Harper:

It feels like the Sixers are settling for some role players and draft compensation. It doesn’t exactly live up to all the talking done about only getting a deal done to help them build toward a championship. Although, that’s probably something you had to say for Joel Embiid’s sake. The Sixers didn’t make a bad trade. They just didn’t make the trade we assume Morey would try work out. When he was faced with the Ben Simmons situation, he patiently waited months for the Harden deal to materialize.

This time? He waited only a week, and ended up with a first-round pick down the road that might be worth something. I just wonder if Morey will still be there making the pick when it comes around. [The Athletic, $]

CBS Sports: A-

But even if they're not necessarily a better team right now, gaining the wiggle room back to still be able to try to improve later down the line is a huge win for an organization that looked like it was starting to go on the decline over the summer. 

Wrote Sam Quinn:

No matter what they wind up doing with this newfound flexibility, its mere existence is probably a best-case scenario for a 76ers team that was trending down even before this drama. In the grand scheme of things, isn't getting assets for Harden now a better outcome than keeping him and losing in the second round would have been? Isn't this non-championship season better spent spotlighting Maxey as a legitimate All-Star to possible free-agent targets?

If the 76ers had re-signed Harden to a multi-year deal in the offseason or simply kept him and let his contract expire, they may not have had a path to rebuilding a new, stronger contender around Embiid down the line. Now they do. They have a lot of work to do in order to traverse that path, but at least it exists. As ugly as this whole situation was, the 76ers have come out the other side of it in a far stronger position than they would have had they simply kept their aging, declining superstar. [CBS Sports]

Bleacher Report: Winner

The Sixers don't have to worry about Harden anymore, have multiple draft picks coming in, and while they were probably never going to get a star back, they did get a few bench options that can help them at both ends of the floor too. 

Really not all that bad, wrote Andy Bailey:

The calculus on this is pretty simple, too. The 76ers no longer have to deal with the chaos that Harden and his situation generated. That's a plus.

The analysis doesn't end there, though. Philly may not have gotten a star (or even a prospect who could turn into one), but getting multiple picks for an asset as distressed as Harden appeared to be is huge.


You never know when a pick swap will come in handy, either. And some flyers in the second round don't hurt.

The deal also gives the Sixers a boost in depth, with multiple forwards who are switchable on defense and reliable on open catch-and-shoot opportunities. [B/R]

NBC Sports: Potential loser (for Morey)

But it's still on Daryl Morey to turn this whole thing around. 

It better work, wrote Kurt Helin:

This had better work out. The veteran reserves next to Joel Embiid, the cap space hoarded for next summer to chase a star, all of it. If not, Morey will have a lot more time to head to the theater and see musicals.

Morey went all in to get his buddy from Houston to come to Philadelphia, only to find this reunion was not going to work as he had planned. Then Harden pushed his way out of town (who could have seen that coming?). Now the entire league has their eyes on Joel Embiid to see if he gets frustrated with Morey’s process and asks out. So far, Embiid has kept his head down and put up numbers to start this season that match his MVP campaign, but if things go sideways it’s Morey who takes the fall. Talk to people around the league and there are plenty who think Morey’s days in Philly are numbered either way. [NBC Sports]

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