While the appeal is understandable, the 76ers are better off having not made the rumored blockbuster deal on offer to acquire James Harden.
The Sixers had been among the frontrunners to get Harden ever since the offseason, even though both GM Daryl Morey, formerly Harden’s GM in Houston, and new coach Doc Rivers said they didn’t want to trade Ben Simmons.
Let’s state the obvious: Harden is a HUGE piece, a historically unique and elite, efficient scorer and playmaker.
Good luck playing Brooklyn and defending Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
It’s also true that Harden has never made it to the NBA Finals since his days of being third fiddle as OKC’s Sixth Man in 2012. It’s not like he’s never had help before. As Deadspin’s Bryan Fonseca detailed on Wednesday: Harden had Dwight Howard, when he was still a defense and rebound monster. He had Chris Paul, one of the game’s all-time great facilitator’s, and Mike D’Antoni, a coach whose system lifted Harden to new heights. And he had Russell Westbrook this past season.
You can’t hold it against Harden that he lost to a dynasty in Golden State, except maybe you can. He shot 2-for-11 with a playoff record 12 turnovers in an embarrassing first-round, Game 5, 114-81 blowout in 2015. The next year was more of the same for Harden and the Rockets, as he shot 2-for-11 once again in Game 6 series-ending loss, with Grandpa Ginobili providing this signature block;
Facing the Warriors again in 2018, Harden scored 32 points in a Game 7 loss that is best remembered for the Rockets blowing a 12-point lead and then bricking 27 straight 3-pointers.
After another series loss to the Warriors in 2019, Paul was traded for Westbrook. Even with Golden State out of the playoffs, the Rockets didn’t fare any better in the playoff bubble as they bowed out to the Lakers in five games.
And, most recently, Harden has shown little interest in balling out with John Wall, who he said he preferred over Westbrook.
TL;DR version is this: As uniquely talented as Harden is, he’s not exactly Michael Jordan.
Let’s state an even more obvious truth: Ben Simmons can’t shoot. He has the range of a caterpillar. That’s admittedly a huge deficit in this era of Curryball, but focusing on what players can’t do is a feature of bad organizations. Critics have been pointing out how defenses sag on Rajon Rondo for more than a decade, but he’s got three Finals appearances and two titles on his resume. Rondo’s coach for that first title that he won as a rookie? Doc Rivers, now Ben Simmons’ coach.
Simmons is a 6-foot-10-inch open court terror, a triple-double threat every night and a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Before Seth Curry tested positive for COVID-19, the Sixers were 7-1, and Simmons had been instrumental in shutting down his man in each win.
Simmons will never be the offensive threat that Harden is. The Brooklyn Nets will be favorites to reach the NBA Finals, but if they don’t win a title over the next 3-4 years, the deal will be considered a failure. Harden is 31, and let’s just say the strippers and late-night munchies lifestyle didn’t work out well for Allen Iverson, who fell off a cliff after age 32.
Tyrese Maxey was no small part of the rumored deal. Why give up a 20-year-old who just scored 39 points in his first pro start?
Daryl Morey is the guy who gave Harden All-Star after All-Star in trying to win a title. It took him all of one offseason to get the Sixers unburied from the disastrous Al Horford acquisition. Joel Embiid showed the Sixers are his team after a career night vs. Miami on Tuesday when he scored 45 points in a 137-134 OT win.
Morey deserves the benefit of the doubt, and Embiid and Simmons deserve the chance to see what they can do with a championship-caliber coach.