All Signs Pointing to a James Harden Sixers Return

NBA: MAR 23 76ers at Lakers
March 23, 2022, Los Angeles, California, USA: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers puts up a layup during their NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday March 23, 2022 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PI/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire) ****NO AGENTS—NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

While there is plenty to talk about surrounding the NBA Draft and free agency, what to do with James Harden is the biggest question of the offseason. The soon-to-be 33-year-old has been the prized target for Daryl Morey for quite some time. Morey flirted with adding the former MVP in 2020 before managing to end the Ben Simmons fiasco by adding James Harden.

How did James harden fare in 2021?

Despite the impressive start to his Sixers tenure, James Harden did not quite live up to the lofty expectations that were set. The Sixers once again were unable to make it past the second round of the playoffs and Harden attempted fewer second-half shots than even Ben Simmons in his final Sixers game.

It is extremely hard to make a team click in half of a season and the Sixers were unable to do this. Harden played a total of just 21 regular-season games and 12 postseason games with Philadelphia. Given the large number of assets that it took to acquire the star and the public comments from both sides, it was clear a return to the Sixers was set to occur. The question was at what cost rather than if he would return. There was some clarity to this question in Jake Fischer’s latest report.

Does the deal make sense?

This is a potential deal that makes sense for both sides. Considering the uncertainty of Harden’s future contract options cashing in on a $47 million option for one season is tough for him to pass up. Opting into this and signing a two-year deal moving forward assures Harden is a part of the long-term plan but does not allow the franchise to be tied to a high contract beyond the current window.

While there is reason to be pessimistic about the version of James Harden that arrived in Philadelphia, the fact of the matter is he is still an extremely useful NBA player. Even the physically declining version of Harden is the best passer that Embiid has ever played with and still commands an immense gravity in the half-court. Harden’s ability to run the offense unlocked Tyrese Maxey’s offense in a way that had not previously been seen. The trio of Embiid, Harden, and Maxey still has exciting potential, and keeping it intact is crucial.

Even the James Harden that seems to have Sixers fans extremely disappointed averaged 21 points, 10.5 assists, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game in the 21 regular-season games with the Sixers. Harden saw his averages drop to 18.6 points, 8.6 assists, and 5.7 rebounds in the playoffs although he saw slight increases in his field-goal and three-point percentages. He also erupted for 31 points and knocked down 6 three-pointers in Game 4 of the series against the Miami Heat which was vital to the Sixers’ win.

Looking forward

Throughout it has career it has been seen that there is a different version of James Harden when he is locked in versus wanting out of the team he is currently on. Harden has been very open about his desire to be back and seems to genuinely be excited about being a Sixer. He also has worked with multiple notable high-level trainers already this offseason. A locked-in James Harden ready to make a statement that he still has more in the tank would be welcomed addition to the long-term plans.

It is still to be determined how much of his struggles were due to the hamstring issues, but having a full offseason to rehab and workout is certain to benefit James Harden greatly. The intriguing flashes Harden showed made it clear the Sixers could not allow him to walk away this offseason. The ink cannot be dried until free agency starts at the end of the month but it appears both sides are on the same page. With the key pieces of Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and James Harden in place, the focus must now shift to upgrading the wing players and adding the proper complementary pieces to elevate the roster to a true contender.

Photo by PI/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

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