Opinion: James Harden Is Not the Answer

NBA: DEC 27 Nets at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 27: Brooklyn Nets Guard James Harden (13) argues a non foul call as the Los Angeles Clippers face off against the Brooklyn Nets at Crypto.com Arena on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire)

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news for those in Philadelphia clamoring for the Sixers to acquire James Harden at all costs prior to the NBA Trade Deadline on February 10th. James Harden is not the answer for the Philadelphia 76ers’ championship dreams.

First, we can look at Ben Simmons, the key piece to the latest trade rumors with the Brooklyn Nets. Simmons hasn’t played this season, and his reluctance to shoot the basketball further from six feet away from the basket is obvious. What Simmons is, though, is special, still. He’s arguably the best overall defender in the NBA. He can guard all positions on the floor and do it well above most others. He’s also going to give you 16 points per game along with roughly 8 assists and 8 rebounds. Add that to the two steals and one block per game, and Simmons is a nightmare for opposing teams while standing at 6’11” and weighing 240 lbs. In spite of his offensive limitations, Simmons is a difference-maker while on the court. What he hasn’t been on the court this season. We’re all aware of the story, so I’ll spare any information or details.

Now, the recent reports are that the Nets are willing to listen to offers for Harden and that Philadelphia, with Daryl Morey in charge, is at the top of their trade list. While Harden’s name rings as one of the true superstars of the past ten years, he’s not a winner. If you look into his history, he has as many titles as I do. Zero. Harden hasn’t been able to put it together, even with a few very good teams.

Harden is also turning 33 years old in this upcoming offseason. While that’s not terribly old, his production has declined once he crossed thirty. Everyone loves to talk about the Harden of 2015-19, when he averaged 31.8 points per game and was arguably the best scorer in the league. But, over the past two seasons, Harden has averaged 23.6 points per game which is slightly below his career average of 25.

Could the decline be because of age or the team he’s playing for? He’s been in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, which is enough for anyone’s stats to decrease, but Harden, for the five years I mentioned earlier, has always been able to find his points. He doesn’t seem to be in the best of physical shape, and at times, even throughout his career, he’s seemed listless on the floor.

Is there value in James Harden? Absolutely. At what cost, though?

The Nets are reportedly interested in Simmons, plus players and picks for Harden. This is absolute insanity. James Harden has a player option for his contract for next season, which he is almost assured of not taking and making himself a free agent. The Nets know that he’s not coming back, and they’re going to try to unload him, which is perfectly acceptable.

The issue becomes, how bad do the Sixers want him. If the trade is Simmons, along with Danny Green, for contract purposes, then it’s perfectly acceptable to do that deal. If you’re asked to include Matisse Thybulle or Tyrese Maxey in addition to some draft picks, then the Nets are completely out of their mind, and the Sixers, if they would agree, would be even more insane.

Simmons, while not playing this season, also isn’t putting the wear and tear on his body that comes along with a full NBA season. He’s only 25 years old and just approaching his prime years in the NBA. There’s still time for Simmons to get better. Harden is on the downside of a career, and if you look over the past ten years, he’s played more minutes than anyone in the league. (27,193 from 2/5/12 – 2/5/22 per Statues) That’s a lot for a guy that’s on the wrong side of thirty in the NBA. Harden is only going to see his game decline, and Simmons will trend in the opposite direction.

The NBA is a team game, and no one person is going to win a title. The Sixers, despite Friday night’s loss to the Mavericks, are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and have been playing very well as a team. The emergence of Tyrese Maxey at the point guard position, the consistency of Tobias Harris, the defense of Thybulle, the shooting of Seth Curry are all helping the team to be successful as a team. While Joel Embiid has decided, apparently, that this season he was going to show the league that he’s the best there is, he still needs others to contribute.

Harden, statistically, doesn’t do as well in the playoffs as he does during the regular season. Putting up points, assists, and rebounds over the whole year is a good thing, but when it comes to the playoffs when the games count, Harden falls off. His scoring dips down to 23.3 points per game for his career. His rebounds, assists, field goal shooting, and three-point shooting all go down as well. So, is he really the piece that puts the team over the hump for the title?

Players like Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, and Jaden Springer are good younger pieces to have, but they’re’ not contributing to this year’s team in any sort of relevant fashion. If you’re willing to part with any of those three in order to fill the Nets’ need for a prospect or pick, then that would also be fine. But you can’t break up the core of this team as Embiid approaches his 28th birthday and has roughly four or five more seasons of high-quality basketball left.

Bringing in James Harden at the expense of Simmons and core members of this team does nothing but get fans excited and breaks down the future success of the team. It may give them a boost in the “projected” win totals and increase their title odds; again, Harden doesn’t assure you a title. If you pair him, on the court, with Maxey, Thybulle, Curry, Embiid, and Harris, then that will surely improve the Sixers’ chances this season with the hope that Harden re-signs for two more years in the offseason. But, to break down the basic team structure for a declining player is not worth it for the team currently, the fans, or the organization going forward.