Many Philadelphia 76ers fans were left stunned by the blown 3-2 lead over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The truth is, this is only surprising if one has not followed the career of James Harden.
Harden is not the only reason the Sixers lost.
He is, however, the biggest reason, and one could argue his general apathetic leadership as he sleepwalks in the biggest moments affects the rest of the team. Though Doc Rivers was fired, the loss to the Celtics is not nearly as much his fault as it is the fault of Harden and Joel Embiid. A head coach can only do so much if the team’s best and highest-paid players are not showing up in crucial games.
It is fair to say, Harden is the biggest failure among superstar players when it comes to playoff success. He has never adapted to the fact that what he thrives on in the regular season does not work in the postseason. Harden relies on weak foul calls to put points on the board, and when those whistles are not getting blown, he disappears, gets completely passive, and rather than adapt, he continues to flail around rather than trying to play normal basketball.
And it is not like Harden makes up for it on the defensive side of the ball. Even his passing, which is usually considered a strength, is incredibly lazy and ineffective when teams know he has no interest in scoring the ball. He is extraordinarily turnover prone as best exemplified when he threw alley-oops to Tobias Harris five feet above his head as if Harris were Aaron Gordon in his prime.
Now, Harden is thirty-three years old, struggles to get by his defenders, and can barely jump. This results in him losing confidence at the rim and routinely getting shots blocked by even mediocre defenders. Despite three incredible games and a sweep in this year’s playoff run, Harden could not manage to shoot above forty percent from the field. He completely tanked the Sixers’ chances of winning four of those games with his performances in which Shake Milton would have been an upgrade. It’s over for Harden.
He will never win a championship as one of the highest-paid players.
Though he was once a brilliant GM and occasionally makes nice moves, Daryl Morey has revolved his recent career around James Harden and his obsession with the 2018 Rockets. It is doubtful that Morey will be able to cut ties with Harden even if it is the obvious decision. Letting a star walk for nothing is tough to stomach, but overpaying and sinking your franchise’s hopes of ever reaching the promised land is worse.
The Sixers were in a similar situation in 2019. While they certainly have different perceptions as players, Tobias Harris was in this spot. The Sixers had just recently traded for soon-to-be free agent Tobias Harris and the conventional wisdom was that they must retain Tobias Harris because they gave up assets for him and he was better than nothing. That has not been the case.
As soon as Harris signed, he was immediately the worst contract in the NBA and one that the team has been unable to unload in any trade ever since. If the Sixers did not learn their lesson from that, then the process is truly a failure and they may as well blow up the team because if Harden is retained making around fifty million dollars a year, this team has no future and should trade Joel Embiid at that point.
Morey was in a challenging position when he traded for Harden, and it was justifiable. That does not mean he should double down on the move as it is evident he is the most fraudulent superstar of the modern era and is deteriorating before our eyes. The Washington Wizards were not smart enough to let Bradley Beal walk and now he has the crown for the worst contract in the league. Re-signing Harden would be the first step into turning into the laughingstock of the league like the Wizards have been for years.
The Sixers could even maybe get something in return for Harden. While he is a free agent, a sign-and-trade is still possible if Harden commands max money, and another team is willing to accommodate. This would be the best course of action, but even if this does not happen and the Sixers get nothing in return, that is still better than overpaying him. The team only has one more year of the Harris albatross, which can either make him a valuable expiring in a trade, or cap space for the following season.
Retaining Harden would make any other moves nearly impossible and would surely lead to an Embiid trade request down the line as the team continues to come up short in the playoffs. The future is still bleak, but that is preferable to utterly hopeless, which will be the case if Harden is retained.