In professional sports, team executives and coaches can over-complicate a situation by attempting to outthink the room. This frequently happens in the NBA when general managers are building teams. Or they just become so blinded by certain players that they fail to see their inadequacies clearly.
The situation in Philadelphia for the 76ers reached this level when team president Daryl Morey traded for his all-time favorite player, James Harden. It was obviously time to move on from Ben Simmons. No one is blaming Morey for moving Simmons, but of course, it had to be for Harden. Morey covets Harden’s brand of dribble, dribble, dribble basketball as if he’s won titles playing that way. The bearded former MVP took Houston to two Western Conference Finals in eight years as a Rocket.
Harden is no longer the same player he was during his Rockets run, and Morey brought him in to play alongside Embiid, and thus far, results have been mixed. Harden’s style doesn’t work well with other stars, especially when playing with a big man like Embiid, who should be getting touches early in the shot clock.
Embiid got off to a slow start this season and didn’t seem too engaged on the court. His body language was terrible, and he didn’t look happy. That could be because Harden had briefly reverted to his ball-dominating ways that we didn’t always see in the second half of last season.
Philly opened the season with back-to-back losses to Boston and Milwaukee. In those games, Embiid was a combined -11.5 in plus/minus, shot under 39 percent from the field, and scored just 15 points against the Bucks. On the other hand, Harden thrived with the ball primarily in his hands, shooting 58 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from the three-point range. Harden was great individually, but the Sixers lost both games and even dropped a third to San Antonio.
For some reason, Morey is still in love with Harden’s brand of ball, although it never produced titles. This 76ers team will only go as far as a healthy Embiid can take them. Now that Harden has missed the last few games with a foot injury, Embiid is playing out of his mind. Philly has unleashed the beast in Joel.
On Sunday night, Embiid scored a career-high 59 points in a victory over the Utah Jazz. He posted 42 points against the Atlanta Hawks the previous game, helping the Sixers win consecutive games. Embiid grabbed double-digit rebounds in both games and posted a plus/minus over 20.
Hopefully, Morey is paying attention from his suite to how much more effective Embiid is when Harden is off the floor. Harden still has a place in the association, but if Philly is to finally get over the hump and make it past the second round, it won’t happen while Harden is part of this team.
Harden and Embiid aren’t a good enough fit to make it out of the eastern conference. If the Sixers stick with Harden (which they will), it’ll be another disappointing early exit from the playoffs, no matter how many games they win during the regular season. Morey has always credited Harden for their overall success in Houston, and rightfully so.
But that was then, and now you’ve got a 7-foot monster in Embiid whom everything should revolve around for this franchise. Harden is still a good player, but he’s not what he was five years ago with the Rockets. He should never get more touches or shots than Embiid in any game. That’s a surefire recipe for disaster.
In all honesty, the Sixers would be better off without Harden. He was brought in to help them advance further than the combo of Embiid and Ben Simmons ever could. The way it looks now, that’s never going to happen. The Sixers’ ceiling was the semifinal round before Harden, and with him, it shall remain a semifinal exit at best.