Sixers need to protect Tyrese Maxey at all costs while pursuing James Harden

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 Arena on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire)

The Ben Simmons trade saga might finally be coming to an end, but it could do so at the expense of players who have become key pieces in his absence. Shams reported last night that the Sixers could indeed be pursuing a trade for James Harden, but there’s one man that simply has to be excluded from negotiations – Tyrese Maxey.

The second-year guard has been a vital cog to the Sixers’ offense this season, averaging 17 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game. He’s averaged 24.3 points in his last 3 contests, including a stunning 33-point outing that saw him carry the team to a grizzly win over Memphis in overtime at the end of January.

Maxey was considered a steal when he was drafted and his rookie year did nothing but further cement that thesis. In year two, he’s evolved into the teams’ primary ball-handler as well as becoming a beloved player due to his infectiously playful personality. The veterans on the team can’t speak highly enough of the Kentucky product and he’s clearly the teams’ most valuable asset in this instance…

…which is why he should not be moved under any circumstance.

Sure, the Sixers won’t be able to move Tobias Harris in a move that also involve Ben Simmons, but the other candidates who could be used as sweeteners are limited. Seth Curry is almost too important on the wing to part ways with, Matisse Thybulle is able to at least negate the defensive prowess missing with Simmons off the court. The issue the team has is that the only way they’re going to be able to lure Harden out of the clutches of Brooklyn is with a deal involving at least one of those players…unless anyone wants Georges Niang?

James Harden is currently playing his worst statistical basketball since he was on the Thunder. He’s still averaging 22.5 points, 8 boards, and 10 assists per matchup, but he’s an aging vet who will be the perfect solution to the Ben Simmons conundrum, but at what cost?

Harden only has two years left on his contract and will account for over $90M of cap space across that timeframe. Tyrese Maxey, meanwhile, is a second-year player whose first big extension will be a lot cheaper than someone as decorated as James Harden.

The Sixers have their star. They tried a big-3 and it failed horrifically. Instead of rushing to replace Simmons with another star, simply getting him off the books and allowing Maxey to grow into that player, something he’s shown all the signs in the world of doing, should absolutely be the priority.

Part with picks, part with vets like Curry if absolutely necessary, but parting ways with a player as explosive as Maxey, with an upside so scarily high, would only help the Sixers in the short-term…while he also happens to be the answer to every long-term issue at the position.

Acquiring James Harden might be a great move on paper…but if it involves trading Tyrese Maxey, it’s a move that will only put off the problem of needing to find a long-term piece who can grow into the star that Embiid desparately needs. If Maxey’s development was slow, then by all means, throw him in the mix. But his lightning-fast growth demands patience and a support system around him to further elevate it…and that’s something that can absolutely be done by finding a way to move Simmons without including his name.

Photo by Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire