James Harden, a 76er

Like Carson Wentz almost a year ago, it wasn’t supposed to end this way for Ben Simmons in Philadelphia. The parallels of the two top-two picks from 2016 are endless. Eventually, Simmons will speak about what went wrong. It’s been reported by many, but Simmons hasn’t publicly spoken since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in June. Simmons received his wish, landing in a truly tremendous spot where the pressure for him to score won’t be nearly as necessary as it once was. It hurts losing Seth Curry, for sure, but you trade that package for James Harden every single time and don’t think twice about it.

Harden instantly gives Philadelphia a chance to win the championship, something unrealistic before the deadline. Who really cares how things ended in Brooklyn, at least from a fan’s perspective? Kyrie Irving probably had a lot to do with it. Jokes will be made at Harden’s expense, but that has never bothered him before, or Philadelphia fans for that matter. Seriously, we’re only nine months removed from an epically embarrassing loss to the Hawks. He returns to familiarity with Daryl Morey and Tad Brown. His relationship with co-owner Michael Rubin cannot be overstated. Embiid is the most skilled big man (Kevin Durant is tall but obviously I’m not including him in this statement) he’s ever played with. He’ll be the best version of himself in Philadelphia because of that, and also, he has no other choice, given how things ended in Houston and Brooklyn. This is most likely his final chance to be a leader on a championship team.

A starting lineup of Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid is certainly good enough. Matisse Thybulle will play a major role, too, but personally the shooting volume of Green feels more needed in the starting lineup. Harden gets the spacing he craves by leading a second unit that includes shooters Furkan Korkmaz and Georges Niang. Isaiah Joe also will be featured as an option.

It’s all roses now. Harden and Embiid. An offensive player on the same level as Embiid. A capable 1-2 punch that gives the 76ers an opportunity. Harden has failed plenty of times before. Zach Lowe wrote a wonderful piece on Harden during his last postseason with the Rockets during the 2020 bubble. It’s tough to read because Harden has come up small in key moments. Last year he had a real chance to re-write his history, but an unfortunate injury derailed it. So, his playoff stink stays. I’ve long been a Harden apologist. I’ve watched so many of his playoff games, hoping for Harden to win. Now, I’ll be doing that where he’s playing for my favorite team.  

This August will mark 10 years since Philadelphia traded for Andrew Bynum. Beginning with that moment, the number of franchise-altering moves is staggering. It’ll make for a wonderful documentary. Some summers featured multiple such decisions (I’m looking at you, 2018 and 2019). But none was more consequential than Markelle Fultz. As the ideal fit alongside Embiid and Simmons, Fultz would propel the 76ers to be the next OKC. A collection of young players that would dominate the league. It’s sad to think back on it, knowing what we know now. Since Philadelphia didn’t have that creator/scorer on the perimeter (an ego clash with Simmons and Jimmy Butler would have changed that), Simmons had to be someone he’s not. He’s culpable of failing to improve. The writing was on the wall. After Boston exposed him in 2018, then coach Brett Brown outlined a plan for how to become better. Simmons refused to listen. He’s no victim in this situation, but I still feel for him. His arrogance, and very poor advice, seemingly sabotaged him. As great of a situation that he’s in now, where he can defer to Durant and Irving, his mindset has to be different. But, like Wentz, that’s no longer Philadelphia’s problem.

The playoffs will dictate the success of this trade for both teams. It’s the only thing that matters. Harden with Embiid provides hope. And that’s the only thing you can ask.

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