2021-22 record: 51-31
Key additions: PJ Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, Danuel House (free agency); De’Anthony Melton (trade)
Key subtractions: Danny Green (trade)
Last season: It was turbulent from the start for the Sixers, who tried and failed spectacularly to fix their impasse with Ben Simmons before bailing on the relationship and swapping him for James Harden. The trade with Brooklyn also cost Philadelphia a pair of valuable rotational players in Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, not to mention future draft capital. In a perfect world, Simmons would’ve handled the fractured situation better and returned a more determined player and Philly’s house would’ve been in order. Instead, the midseason shakeup didn’t produce rave reviews or results. Harden was inefficient upon arrival and, once the playoffs began, was far from the Kia MVP he was with the Rockets years ago. The burden fell on the ample shoulders of All-Star center Joel Embiid, and though he delivered an MVP runner-up performance, it wasn’t quite good enough to avoid an early playoff exit in the conference semifinals courtesy of the Heat in six games.
Summer summary: We can applaud Harden’s commitment to teamwork, yet at the same time, also put his generosity in perspective. Harden agreed to a two-year, $68 million contract extension which, given his previous contract (a supermax deal) and credentials as one of this generation’s truly great scorers, seemed team-friendly. Harden did so to help the Sixers add players and increase the club’s chances of reaching the Promised Land next season, which we’ll get to in a minute.
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But: Harden’s gesture, while certainly appreciated by the Sixers, was also somewhat out of necessity. He experienced a decline season in 2021-22; his 3-point percentage, scoring and overall impact was far less than the height of his career, and he struggled against Miami in the semifinals. Therefore, Harden lacked leverage from a financial standpoint. Had he chosen to opt out and test the market, he likely wouldn’t have commanded more than what he agreed to with Philly. Also, when you’ve already banked more than $300 million in salary and endorsements, taking a haircut in pay here in potentially your twilight period isn’t that big a sacrifice.
All that said, Harden did right by the Sixers and GM Daryl Morey, who used the cap wiggle room to snag a pair of old friends: Tucker and House, who were teammates with Harden and acquired by Morey in Houston.
Tucker is a missing-piece player, someone highly valued for his tenacious approach to defense. He demonstrated as much in Milwaukee a few years ago and helped the Bucks win a title. He went to Miami and instantly fit inside the Heat culture, where hard work and intensity are valued. He’s also an underrated 3-point shooter; while working from the corners, Tucker shot a career-best 41.5% last season at age 37.
And that’s where the concern lies. He’ll turn 38 next spring. While Tucker keeps himself in top shape, Father Time has a way of stealing your lateral movement. Will this hamper Tucker when he’s matched against quicker players? And how long will he last if the Sixers are fortunate enough to go on a deep run next summer?
Philly also added House and Melton, a pair of very serviceable players who can and should make the Sixers a deep team. Melton was a very dependable combo guard in Memphis and shined when Ja Morant was briefly lost because of injury last season. He’s quick, smart and capable of carrying increased minutes if given to him. Melton isn’t the 3-point shooter that Seth Curry was for Philly, but he did connect on 37.4% in Memphis.
Given the cap and the lack of tradable assets, the Sixers and Morey did the best they could this offseason. Which, overall, seemed solid enough. A lot depends on how much Tucker has left in his gritty tank at this stage of his career, and whether Harden used this summer to whip himself into shape. Harden could get away with carrying a few pounds during his prime. But now? Age slows you down and suddenly, trying to blow by defenders isn’t as easy as before.
He accepted a paycut, but a better gift for the Sixers is Harden, who turned 33 last month, keeping his body in the best shape possible in 2022-23.
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