Is this the end for the Sixers? What are their options moving forward?

76ers Tobias Harris
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 17: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21), Philadelphia 76ers Guard James Harden (1), Philadelphia 76ers Forward P.J. Tucker (17) and Philadelphia 76ers Forward Tobias Harris (12) huddle during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on January 17, 2023 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

For the second time in two years, the Philadelphia 76ers face controversy around a disgruntled player demanding a trade and refusing to play for the organization. While the CBA has implemented rules that are aimed to prevent such drama, the Sixers potentially face severe fallout depending on how this situation plays out.

In a battle of who will give way first between James Harden and Daryl Morey, it is the Sixers’ fans who truly suffer.

Something has to change in Philadelphia if the Sixers are ever to return to their former glory. But what are the team’s options moving forward?

The status quo

Sixers
FILE – Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden plays during an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. Harden appears determined to sever ties with the Philadelphia 76ers after the star guard called team president Daryl Morey a liar at a promotional event at China. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)

The first option is more of the same. James Harden continues to refuse to play for Daryl Morey and the Sixers while the team continues to hold him out of trade conversations until something they deem acceptable comes across their table. This could happen in a day, a week, a month, or most likely, the stalemate would continue to – or perhaps even through – the NBA trade deadline.

The danger of the status quo is that the magnifying glass only intensifies. The Sixers are under the microscope as it is; having an unhappy Harden, one of the biggest off-court distractions the league has ever seen will only continue to bring more of the wrong type of attention to them.

As this situation continues to fester, the potential fallout ranges from a lack of production this season to a further disruption of team chemistry. More long-term effects could include dissuading potential free agents and even alienating reigning MVP Joel Embiid

This option remains far more likely than it should for the Sixers, as the danger of it is apparent, but the only way to avoid it involves something Daryl Morey would never willingly consider, caving to James Harden’s trade demands.

Sixers cave and trade Harden for pennies

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Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden reacts after being fouled by Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija, back left, of Israel, while shooting in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The second scenario finds Daryl Morey doing the unthinkable – for him, caving to Harden’s trade demand to the Los Angeles Clippers and moving him for pennies on the dollar. Some likely candidates in a potential deal would include Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Nicholas Batum, and Norm Powell.

Morris, Covington, and Batum would provide the Sixers with some low-end depth as they attempt to replace the void left by the departure of Georges Niang. Playing devil’s advocate, there is some small benefit in those players from a financial standpoint as well, given the team’s reported interest in maximizing cap space ahead of free agency next offseason, but that will only work if free agents want to come to Philadelphia after back-to-back nightmare dealings with stars.

Could the Sixers receive some semblance of true compensation in the form of light draft picks or a young player? Possibly, but nothing the Clippers are willing to trade will come close to replacing last season’s assists leader, and Daryl Morey knows that. Then again, perhaps the decision does not end up being his.

Daryl Morey is removed from office

Sixers, Harden
Philadelphia 76ers’ Daryl Morey speaks during a news conference at the NBA basketball team’s training facility, Wednesday, May 17, 2023, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

This is not some passionate plea for Daryl Morey’s figurative head, more so an honest analysis that this situation, in part, has snowballed due to decisions made by Morey. No one in an NBA front office knew what Harden is capable of – both on and off the court – better than Morey. At best, this entire endeavor could be considered shortsighted. At worst, egotistical.

Some fans have already begun calling for his job, and that noise is expected to grow the longer this situation remains unsolved. At a certain point, it may even reach the ownership group.

Despite owner Joshua Harris’ historically indirect approach, at a certain point, he is likely to get involved, and someone will take the fall. That individual will most likely be the man who brought Harden to Philadelphia in the first place. But would Harris be willing to part with one of the biggest names in NBA front office circles? Does the team’s performance and public perception matter as long as the organization’s value remains intact? These are fair questions, but one more to consider is if the decision of Morey’s future will even be in Harris’ hands to begin with.

Nearly three years ago, Morey stepped down from his position with the Houston Rockets after a controversial statement supporting the people of Hong Kong led to the NBA publicly opposing Morey in an effort to preserve their financial interest. Morey’s own organization meanwhile distanced themselves from their general manager until he ultimately “made the decision to step down.”

Now, while it can be debated whether Morey truly took his destiny into his own hands in that case, he could find himself in familiar territory as he may feel himself on an island regarding this matter, with the easier option being to pick up his ball and go home. He may end up not being the only prominent member of the franchise who finds themselves fed up.

Joel Embiid finally has enough

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) watches from the bench as the 76ers fall behind the Boston Celtics during the second half of Game 7 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

If you are among the individuals still braving Twitter wastelands, you may be aware that Joel Emblid recently removed mention of Philadelphia and “processing” from his profile. The action may very well mean nothing, it’s not unheard from athletes to do so during times of frustration, but considering the history of Embiid’s social media game and his comments earlier this offseason, it’s fair to say the discourse this would create wasn’t lost on him.

Despite recent reports that Joel Embiid desires to stay with the Sixers and have a career that mirrors Dirk Nowitzki or Kobe Bryant, it is not outlandish to believe that he has a boiling point, as we all do. From trading away Jimmy Butier to signing players for Ben Simmons to burner accounts from the front office slandering him, Joel Embild has suffered much during his time with the Sixers. Now, as a star refuses to play for the organization and demands to be traded for the second time in two years, a change of heart would be understandable.

Regarding where Joel Embild would choose to go, the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks are the assumed preferred landing spots, and while there are some attractive assets in either location, there are many teams who can win a bidding war over them. The Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and New Orleans Pelicans all have preferable offers for the Sixers and the added benefit of playing in the Western Conference.

Assuming they are not receiving an MVP-caliber player in return, Philadelphia would likely prefer to add a treasure trove of draft assets and young players who could grow around Tyrese Maxey. With enough outside draft picks and the right young players, the Sivers could strike a balance between rebuilding and fielding a team that wouldn’t cause fans to fully revolt – which may be unavoidable at a certain point.

The complication is the recent history of NBA stars demanding trades while publicly declaring they would only play for one team. There is a rich history of players demanding trades to singular teams even beyond Damian Lillard and James Harden. Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, and even Wilt Chamberlain all have experience in this area.

The key is the player who is demanding the trade is not doing everything within their power to tank their own value. It also helps when that player has not clearly lost several steps. Thankfully, the reigning MVP does not fall into the latter category, though there it remains to be seen where Embiid would be willing to go should he demand a trade. While the possibility should be realized, it is premature for the Sixers to be in panic mode.

What will the Sixers do?

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Daryl Morey speaks during a news conference at the team’s NBA basketball practice facility, Friday, May 13, 2022, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Any definitive answer is far too premature, but the Sixers are running out of time, and the fanbase is running out of patience. Having suffered long, though the Process especially, just to wind up here has left the city depleted and angry. It is not up to the fans to buy merchandise and tickets regardless of the product placed in front of them. Rather, it is the responsibility of the Sixers organization to assemble something worth watching and cheering for.

The time between now and next offseason could be the moment the bubble finally burst for the Sixers. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. Hopefully, they can navigate through this situation with their fanbase intact.