The Philadelphia 76ers are once again recalibrating after a second-round exit in the playoffs. Now what?
The Philadelphia 76ers are right back where they started, watching the conference finals from home and trying to figure out what’s next. The summer brings about the same perpetual questions for Philly fans: can Joel Embiid win in the playoffs? Can _Insert Second Star Here_ win in the playoffs? What about Tobias Harris? How’d that contract happen again? What if Jimmy Butler stayed? And on, and on, and on it goes, until the seas rise, the winds bellow, and the world ends.
Can Daryl Morey fix what is perpetually broken? Morey’s track record of individual moves has been remarkably strong since joining the Sixers’ front office in 2020, but the results haven’t changed. It’s second-round exit after second-round exit.
Maybe it’s the coach Morey inherited? Doc Rivers was finally fired after Boston’s Game 7 triumph, but Rivers was hired to solve the problem he manifested. Brett Brown couldn’t get past the second round either.
Philadelphia’s offseason plans are pretty much based around one player: James Harden. The Sixers are short on trade capital after selling the farm to acquire Harden. He can walk for nothing or stick around. Ask some reporters and a return to Houston is written in stone. Ask others and it’s all leverage to milk the Sixers for more money. Ask the average fan, and I’m not sure they can really muster up the will to care at this point.
Harden has left the Sixers with an impossible conundrum, made no simpler by the sudden realization that their MVP candidate and franchise cornerstone might not be built for the moment. Tyrese Maxey is joy incarnate and there are several very promising fixtures in the rotation, but the Sixers might be building their house on a mudslide. We are not far from the point where Morey just has to admit defeat and tear it all down.
Today is not that day, however. The Sixers are still committed to winning with Joel Embiid and he is, in theory, still a top-10 player and reigning MVP who can support a winning team. The Sixers have few options, but few options isn’t the same as no options and Morey is a famously creative operator. So, how does the Sixers’ summer shape up?
Philadelphia 76ers outgoing free agents
The Philadelphia 76ers have a sizable list of upcoming free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. There are challenges beyond convincing Harden to stay.
- James Harden, 33, G (Player Option)
- Danuel House Jr., 29, F (Player Option)
- Georges Niang, 29, F
- Montrezl Harrell, 29, C (Player Option)
- Shake Milton, 26, G
- Jalen McDaniels, 25, F
- Paul Reed, 23, C (RFA)
- Dewayne Dedmon, 33, C
- Mac McClung, 24, G (RFA)
- Louis King, 24, F
The Harden contract is obviously paramount. If the Sixers can even convince him to stay, how much are they willing to give him? Is the 33-year-old Harden worth a four-year, $210 million max extension? Will he sign for anything less?
If Harden does re-sign, the Sixers might have a tough time keeping the second unit intact. Georges Niang feels like the safest bet to return. Jalen McDaniels was billed as a priority when Sixers acquired him at the trade deadline, but he was played off the floor in the playoffs. Perception changes fast in the NBA.
Shake Milton is probably the biggest inflection point. If the Sixers re-sign Harden, Shake probably walks for more money and/or a bigger role. If Harden walks, however, Shake probably becomes a priority for the front office. He averaged 21.3 points in eight starts when Harden was injured last season.
Paul Reed has proven himself to be a playoff-level big. The Sixers can match offer sheets but his future will likely come down to how much another team is willing to spend. Philadelphia can be pretty easily outbid for a lot of these names.
Philadelphia 76ers trade targets
If Harden bolts for Houston, he could do them a solid by making it a sign-and-trade. Theoretically, Philadelphia can offer about $9 million more over four years than Houston; maybe he squeezes every last penny out of his last big contract and delivers the Sixers a $50 million trade exception. That’s the ideal outcome if Harden doesn’t return.
There has also been buzz around Chris Paul if Harden were to shock the world and go to Phoenix. Paul would be a suitable stopgap but he probably doesn’t elevate the spirit of the fanbase or the Sixers’ chances of actually winning something in the East.
While Philadelphia likely doesn’t have a specific target in mind, now is the time to explore the Tobias Harris trade market as fully as possible. How much value does a mid-tier starter on an expiring $39.3 million contract have? Well, you won’t know until you find out. Harris could take on an elevated role if Harden walks, but traditionally Harris “taking on an elevated role” doesn’t bode well.
Philadelphia 76ers free agent targets
James Harden, for starters. The Sixers are pretty much at the point where re-signing Harden is the best move because there is no alternative. If Harden dips, Philadelphia can clear out roughly $12 million in cap space, but that would require letting all the bench pieces walk — not great.
The Sixers can keep tabs on lower-end rotation pieces. Seth Curry is a free agent; he played the best basketball of his life running DHOs with Embiid. Andre Drummond is another former Sixer who could test the waters, but Drummond is probably a sneaky downgrade from Paul Reed.
The Sixers should really be focused on keeping their guys. There’s a certain sense of resignation in that approach, but there’s really no clear way to upgrade the roster with or without Harden. The Sixers need to put a lot of faith in whoever the next head coach is. Maybe the most important free agent on the market is Nick Nurse.
Philadelphia 76ers NBA Draft targets
The Philadelphia 76ers own zero (0) picks in the 2023 NBA Draft. Their second-round pick was forfeited due to tampering with P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. Their first-round pick belongs to Houston by way of Brooklyn because of the James Harden trade.
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