The way the Philadelphia 76ers effortlessly rid themselves of James Harden encouraged high-fives and dancing in the streets. How Daryl Morey unloaded him for three quality role players (Nic Batum, Marcus Morris, Robert Covington), plus a developmental player (KJ Martin), and multiple draft picks, will forever remain a mystery. It was a stroke of genius, even if he was correcting his own mistake.
Harden had a very low ceiling on a Sixers franchise that desperately needed to free up minutes for Tyrese Maxey. If there were any lingering questions about his rising stardom, hopefully, his 50-point outburst against Indiana answered them. He’s not the third or fourth option. He is the second, sometimes the first, when running what has morphed into an unstoppable pick-and-roll with Joel Embiid. Look no further than Maxey’s second quarter on Sunday: 17 points in six minutes, all of them with Embiid on the bench.
Enough about Maxey. When news first broke on the Harden trade, talk immediately turned to what shoe was going to drop next. Morey certainly acquired all those assets to make a corresponding move, right? There had been reports of the Sixers star hunting — Zach Lavine, OG Anunoby, Gordon Hayward, Malcolm Brogdon, and Alex Caruso are a few of the bigger names being linked to them. But, after an eight-game winning streak has given the Sixers the best record in the NBA, the chorus for a big-time trade has quieted a bit. Or at least it should.
Nick Nurse has the luxury of throwing fresh body after fresh body onto the floor thanks to one of the deepest rosters in basketball. Embiid scored 37 points in 33 minutes versus the Pacers. That’s incredibly efficient. The Sixers can rest Embiid without sacrificing size or defense. Paul Reed (6-foot-9) is eating minutes and thriving while backup center Mo Bamba — the 7-footer signed to push Reed for playing time — can barely get on the court. Throw in the infectious energy and tenacious defense that Robert Covington and Patrick Beverley are bringing off the bench and, well, it’s an embarrassment of riches for Nurse’s rotations.
“I mean it’s never the same type of game, though. They’re all different. We always find a way to win it,” Batum told reporters after Sunday’s 137-126 win. “How? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s defense, tonight it was the offense. I mean, sometimes it’s just bad play one half, great third quarter. I mean whatever, what was that? Coach finds a way, player stepping up.”
Think about this: the Sixers were able to hold a lead on Sunday night anchored by a lineup featuring Covington, Beverley, Embiid, Furkan Korkmaz, and Danuel House. It wasn’t a long stretch for that group, or necessarily a great one, but the depth the Harden trade has given the Sixers is enviable. Minutes are getting really hard to come by and need to be earned. And, remember, Kelly Oubre Jr. is out indefinitely.
So, yes, Morey could parlay his Harden haul into another superstar player. There will be plenty of rumors between now and the February 8 deadline — Jerami Grant has been thrown into the trade conversation — but the smarter move would be for the front office to sit on their hands. Get them nice and numb so their fingers can’t even reach for the phone. Wait. Think. Plot. Chances are the buyout market will be robust. If an extra shooter or ball-handler is needed, do it then without giving anything up in a trade.