4 players fighting for their future with 76ers

Paul Reed, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Paul Reed, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
(Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers are in win-now mode. With rumors swirling about James Harden’s future with the team, it’s all about the here and now. Can the Sixers reach the mountaintop before time runs out on the current group?

Joel Embiid and James Harden gives any team a puncher’s chance. And I would argue the Sixers have much more than a puncher’s chance. The current supporting cast is the strongest of the Doc Rivers era and there’s no unbeatable heavyweight lurking in the shadows. The East, and the NBA at large, is competitive — but winnable.

That said, it’s hard not to think about the future. Of all the contenders, Philly is dealing with the most uncertainty right now. Not only could Harden walk for nothing, but the cap situation gets very tricky if they want to re-sign all their important role players.

With the potential for substantial change on the horizon, which Sixers are fighting for their future?

Has Shake Milton priced himself out of 76ers extension?

Shake Milton had arguably the most impressive stretch of his NBA career earlier this season when James Harden and Tyrese Maxey were sidelined due to injuries. Suddenly, he was a nightly 20-5-5 threat who looked totally at home running the show in tandem with Joel Embiid.

The modern NBA values versatility, which Milton offers plenty of thanks to his impressive 6-foot-7 frame and diverse offensive skill set. He operates at his own pace offensively, patiently probing the defense before launching pull-up middies or attacking the rim with long, sweeping strides.

Milton is comfortable operating out of pick-and-rolls or two-man actions with Embiid, consistently slinging pinpoint passes to open shooters on the perimeter. His role diminished considerably upon Harden’s return, of course, but Milton has still chipped in with useful connective playmaking and timely shot-making.

Now the real test arrives. With multiple high-caliber guards on the roster, can Milton scrap his way to playoff minutes with players like Danuel House Jr. and Jalen McDaniels lurking? He was excellent in Philly’s frustrating second-round series against Miami last season, but the Sixers are deeper now. Milton definitely has the talent to warrant playing time, but he’s the fourth guard on a team employing two All-Star level contributors in the backcourt and De’Anthony Melton, who might garner All-Defense consideration. Rotations shorten up in the playoffs.

It’s a fascinating conundrum for Milton in the last year of his absurdly affordable three-year, $5 million contract. He may have priced himself out of a Sixers extension earlier in the season, but he may not get the chance to boost his value further on the biggest stage. Ultimately, the Sixers should want Milton to stick around. He competes and there’s inherent value in big playmakers who can space the floor.