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NBA Mailbag: Will James Harden find success with 76ers?

The state of the 76ers and Lakers are popular topics as Mark Medina answers your NBA questions.

James Harden has moved on to Philadelphia after 80 career games with Brooklyn.

The moment captured the spontaneous comedy that often happens with the “Inside the NBA” crew. The moment also captured the scrutiny that James Harden faced forcing his way out from the Brooklyn Nets while nursing an apparent left hamstring injury.

As captains of this year’s NBA All-Star Game, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant appeared on TNT to select their players shortly after the Nets dealt Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons. James then played along with Barkley’s suggestion to avoid selecting Harden to see if Durant would do so. But James ended up with Harden as the last pick, while Durant justified Rudy Gobert’s selection for needing interior defense in an All-Star Game that usually cares little about that.

“He hasn’t played; is he healthy?” James asked on the TNT telecast. “James [Harden] hasn’t played. What happens if he doesn’t …”

Charles Barkley interrupted with the punchline: “He got traded; he’s healthy now!”

Was James Harden left as the last pick in the 2022 All-Star Draft on purpose?

Apparently, not so much. The Sixers ruled Harden out through All-Star weekend because of a left hamstring injury that already had sidelined him for the past six games with the Nets.

So we’ll start off with Harden and the Sixers in this week’s edition of the NBA mailbag.

For future mailbags, send your question to me through email or Twitter.

Will Harden and Embiid go to The Finals this year?

— Richard Aller

I don’t think so. I still give that nod to the Nets, who substantially improved with the Harden injury. They have an All-Star-caliber playmaking forward who actually wants to play for them in Simmons. The Nets should benefit from his defense and playmaking and won’t have to worry about his shooting issues because Durant and Kyrie Irving will gladly carry that responsibility. The Nets also have collected more depth in the trade by collecting another shooter (Seth Curry), a center (Andre Drummond) and two future first-round draft picks. The Sixers only got Harden and Paul Millsap in the deal.

I still have my own reservations with the Nets, no doubt. Will Irving still remain a part-time player? Will Durant stay healthy? Will Simmons be in the proper head space after missing all of the 2021-22 season to date? Besides, the Eastern Conference has several other contenders in the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

But as far as the Sixers? This was a trade they had to make since Simmons remained intent on not playing for them ever again. The connection between Harden and Sixers’ president of basketball operations Daryl Morey remains strong after working together with the Houston Rockets. But Harden has shown he is not the same player this season as he was in Houston. Harden has struggled all season with numerous injuries and his isolation-heavy style might lead to some hiccups with Sixers center Joel Embiid (who is at his best as the primary scoring option). Ultimately, I think the Sixers will figure those issues out. It just will take them more time to do so than it will for Brooklyn.

What do you think the Lakers need to do to turn things around?

— Dr. Evan Jeffries

Wait till the offseason. The Lakers failed to make a deal before the trade deadline, and the reasons had nothing to do with lacking any roster deficiencies. It had everything to do with the Lakers lacking many assets. I don’t share optimism that the Lakers can climb back into championship contention simply with a healthier roster and more on-court time with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. Their ceiling only amounts to a second-round playoff exit.

So, the Lakers’ best bet entails hoping that Westbrook shows enough relative progress that he could at least gauge some interest in the offseason trade market. The Lakers should also look to further develop Talen Horton-Tucker to determine if he actually has enough upside as a rotation player or a young tradeable asset.

After the season, any chance that Lakers owner Jeanie Buss overhauls the front office and hires an actual GM and reduces the roles of the Rambis duo in running the franchise?

— Charles L. Freeman

It seems inevitable that the Lakers will make offseason changes. That is what happens after the Lakers fail to end their season by hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. And even if the Lakers have a cleaner bill of health for the final 25 games of the season, it seems unlikely they can dramatically overcome their roster deficiencies.

But as much blame as the Lakers front office bears for this poorly constructed roster, I think they will be given a pass for a few reasons. One, they will cite the team’s overlapping injuries to their star and role players. Two, they will hold coach Frank Vogel more accountable for the team’s shortcomings in maximizing their roster than with fairly evaluating their own role in it. And three, the Lakers will seek to make other changes by dealing Russell Westbrook and replacing the team’s eight pending free agents with other players.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers’ front office will remain invincible. It’s just that the Lakers can cling to other sources of fault first. Also, Lakers controlling governor Jeanie Buss hired Rob Pelinka four years ago and has had a long-established relationship with Kurt Rambis (director of basketball affairs) and Linda Rambis (executive director). I would think Buss still believes in them and would hardly part ways with them any time soon.

I love the weekly mailbag, so I thought I’ll finally send one of many drafts I haven’t before. This is more of an observation than a question, but I think a small change should be in the works for the All-Star Draft process. KD’s team starting with one less player than LeBron’s team seems unfair. If a captain is injured, his replacement or even better the second-highest vote-getter in the conference should replace him in the starting five as well. This way both teams will start with one player.

What do you think? 

— Yanni Dikaros 

Thanks for the kind words, and glad that you’re enjoying the mailbag. I understand your frustrations with injuries. But neither Durant, James nor the NBA can control a team’s health. What you are proposing is exactly what the NBA has done. With Durant sidelined with a sprained MCL in his left knee, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver chose Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum as an injury replacement for Durant in the starting lineup because he received the next most votes among players in the same conference and position group.

Any chance that Steve Kerr will get consideration for Coach of the Year? It seems to me that his primary competition is probably from Taylor Jenkins of the Memphis Grizzlies or J.B. Bickerstaff of Cleveland.

Michael Dovik

Steve Kerr surely deserves a lot of praise. He has shown over the years that the Warriors’ success does not just hinge on them having so many All-Star players. Kerr knows how to develop young talent as well as earn respect among stars and role players with how he treats them with positive reinforcement and accountability. Though Kerr might receive more votes, I suspect that Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff and Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins will become the heavier favorites.

The reason? The Grizzlies and Cavaliers experienced a stronger leap this season than last. Though the Warriors also morphed from Play-In candidate to title contender, they are still only three years removed from appearing in The Finals. The growth that Memphis and Cleveland made seemed more unexpected.

Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff has done an outstanding job so far in 2021-22.

Hoops Around the World

We all know that the NBA has become a global brand and that basketball has become a global game. But what fuels your basketball fandom?

Got a good basketball story to tell? Write it up and send it my way. The best essays will be used in this feature throughout the season. We’d also love to see a photo of the hoop you play on, whether it be in your neighborhood gym or in the backyard of your driveway. Got a good image? Then pass along and we’ll feature it.

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NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.

How can you participate? Simply email your question to Mark here, or use your Twitter account and get your question to him here.