CAMDEN, N.J. — The 76ers’ path to getting previous the second spherical of the NBA playoffs subsequent 12 months for the primary time since 2001 appears fairly clear.
The core gamers on the 2021-22 roster might want to proceed to enhance throughout the offseason the best way Tyrese Maxey did final summer season and two-time MVP runner-up Joel Embiid has clearly performed over the previous two offseasons.
President of basketball operations Daryl Morey must improve the expertise on this crew, together with the fifth starter and subpar bench, by way of the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6.4 million), minimal contracts and trades.
With Embiid (7-for-24 taking pictures) struggling and the Sixers desperately making an attempt to remain shut in Thursday’s 99-90 series-clinching loss to the Warmth, Doc Rivers had little alternative however to run reserve Shake Milton off of screens like he was the Suns’ Devin Booker as a result of Milton was the one man doing something on the offensive finish. In the meantime, Harden missed his lone area aim try within the telling third quarter and took simply two pictures within the second half.
Harden defined his lack of pictures on this curious method: “The ball simply did not get again to me.”
Sure, there’s worth in Harden as a pass-first level guard. Getting the Sixers into their offense is vital, although he has to make higher selections than he did whereas accumulating 28 assists to 21 turnovers within the final 4 video games in opposition to Miami.
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Most of all, although, James Harden has to play extra like James Harden, former league MVP, and fewer like Andre Miller as a result of the Sixers do not have sufficient dependable offensive weapons to win with out Harden’s scoring.
Morey and the Sixers acquired Harden from the Nets within the blockbuster Ben Simmons deal Feb. 10 and he made his Philadelphia debut Feb. 25, so he had slightly over 2½ months along with his new crew. Whereas that is a good period of time, having a full offseason, coaching camp, preseason and common season ought to assist Harden be higher ready for the 2022-23 playoffs.
“We’re enthusiastic about what he can deliver,” stated Morey throughout Friday’s year-end information convention on the crew’s coaching facility. “We expect with a full 12 months with James, we are able to unlock what he brings to us.”
However until Harden’s hamstring challenge was nonetheless limiting his explosiveness throughout this postseason, it is unclear how Harden goes to revert to his days as a high-level scorer when he’ll be 33 heading into subsequent 12 months.
Harden could not beat defenders off the dribble the best way he did earlier in his profession, which restricted the variety of his straightforward baskets and decreased his free throw makes an attempt from 8.3 within the common season to six.3 within the playoffs (none in Sport 6).
“Look, he is an extremely gifted participant — identical to Joel, identical to Tobias (Harris),” Morey stated. “We’ll determine methods to use him.”
It is too early to match Harden to Chris Webber, a former star the Sixers acquired from the Kings on the draw back of his profession in February 2005. Philly purchased out the rest of Webber’s contract lower than two years later.
Morey first acquired Harden with the Rockets in October 2012. He believed Harden might be significantly greater than a sixth man for the Thunder that includes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and he was proper.
Harden earned league MVP honors in 2017-18 and led the NBA in scoring thrice, highlighted by a 36.1-point common the following season, which was the best since Michael Jordan (37.1 in 1986-87).
That is a great distance from averaging 18.6 factors in 12 playoff video games as a Sixer.
I anticipate Harden to choose up his $47 million participant choice for 2022-23, however Morey can’t and will not give him a most four-year, $223 million extension on prime of that. Harden making greater than $60 million as a 37-year-old is a situation to keep away from. I’d go on an extension till Harden proves he reveals what he can do subsequent season.
For the Sixers to not waste one other 12 months of Embiid’s prime, Harden have to be extra productive scorer than he was within the postseason. It stays to be seen if that is a sensible risk.
Tom Moore: [email protected]; @TomMoorePhilly