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July 21, 2023

Eytan Shander: It's the beginning of the end for the Sixers

The Sixers' current situation will end poorly, writes columnist Eytan Shander.

I hate everything about the acquisition of James Harden.

This has nothing to do with James Harden off the floor or as anyone other than a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

But I just hate it.

It represents yet another failure of forcing a player in and watching another ugly exit. It’s a part of a larger issue with this team that nobody has figured out, so don’t put all of it on Daryl Morey. Just enough to spread around. The Harden failure can be summed up in one disappointing note — the breakdown between Morey and Harden’s relationship.

Ask yourself this question... if people who know the guy in charge doesn't want to stay here, what chance does this team have in keeping someone on the fence? One more, who exactly is kicking down the door to get to Joel Embiid?

This whole thing is a disaster and it’s not going away anytime soon. The city rightfully pours their heart into this team. They are one of the best regular season teams with the regular season MVP. We love our teams, but love them when they win. That’s what continues to be so damn frustrating with this team, their front office, and this offseason.

Like, what the hell, man? Joel Embiid was trolling me with a comment about winning elsewhere, or at least that’s what I was told. There’s something else that sticks out, and it’s a larger issue.

It’s truly unfortunate because there’s no easy answer. The easiest thing Morey could do would be trading Embiid and starting with new pieces. Those don’t necessarily have to be draft picks, and, no, I am not advocating trading Embiid in this column.

I’m shining a light on what remains the most obvious yet damning piece of evidence on why this team will not win a championship  nobody wants to play here.

It’s not a direct reflection of our fanbase. Maybe that plays a factor for some as we just saw with a former Eagles defensive back. Others around sports leagues pay attention to things like how Philly was during the Eagles' and Phillies' respective runs. Look no further than Embiid. He’s one of the rarer Sixers to fully embrace the city of Philadelphia — biking, playing at parks, just being infused. It’s awesome but that’s not enough, nor should it be.

It's not just Harden and Embiid on the floor, it’s not just the friendship between Harden and the front office breaking down, it’s not the lingering cloud of when the trade will go down, it’s all about lacking any mutual interest.

There have been failures across the board, on the floor with Embiid and the rotation of secondary star players, the rotation of coaches, the rotation of front office heads, the rotation of aged role players. Everything changes except Embiid and the fans. He’s looking across the country and watching something play out right now that is a very likely future here.

Damian Lillard pushing out of Portland essentially to Miami is damning to the Sixers two times over. Embiid sees a future example of himself: a superstar playing his career in one city and failing in the playoffs. Like Lillard, failing with a rotation of players and management. Embiid’s career window to win isn’t as wide as Lillard, so this might be expedited to appease the big man. The other part of this is Philadelphia was explicitly left off the list by Lillard. Again, nobody wants to play here.

All different examples but there is a serious problem here. Zero interest from star players wanting to run up and down the floor with Embiid. Doesn’t look like Embiid is doing much to recruit any of those star players. The team is in a constant state of flux; every year someone or multiple people are on the block. From coach, to management, to player of importance  there’s constant change. Harden represents another forced marriage that ends in expected divorce, sometimes ugly but ultimately the same  the player leaves.

A theme most difficult to ignore by players and agents around the league.

The worst part about this is that there’s no specific person to blame. It’s probably a healthy dose of what’s currently happening  Morey struggling to make his mark and Embiid being a difficult match  and how gutted this team was by the league. Morey is still strapped by stuff he inherited, how all of that got to him is a different conversation involving Adam Silver and the Collar.

As we’ve seen, just firing or trading people isn’t the answer and yields the same exact result. Embiid and Harden are totally in tune with the league, they are perceptive and read the waves like they do opponents on the floor. Morey is a smart assembler and manager of talent and it might be a matter of opening up his reach. Nick Nurse is a winning coach who should provide a couple of years of stability. The fans aren’t going anywhere and at the moment neither is Embiid.

I don’t fault him for pushing the team to avoid a gap year in his prime  how could anyone be so selfish as a fan. I don’t fault Harden for doing what he’s doing as it’s what he’s always done. I don’t fault Morey for trying to maneuver around areas where he’s handcuffed, right up to dealing Embiid this summer. Maybe things would look better long term. Maybe it would be a disaster.

The bottom line is this is not going to be fixed this year and will ultimately end poorly,. It always does. Be it another forced marriage, Embiid being dealt, a firing in the front office, or something of similar impact — this is the beginning of the end.

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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