The Signal

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Monday April 15th

OPINION: Rejuvenated Sixers find life in the post-Harden era

<p>76ers star guard James Harden has been traded to the Clippers (Photo courtesy of FanDuel / <a href="" target="">Wikipedia Commons</a>).</p>

76ers star guard James Harden has been traded to the Clippers (Photo courtesy of FanDuel / Wikipedia Commons).

By Zach Jacovini
Staff Writer

As a diehard Sixers fan, someone who suffered through the 10-72 record during the 2015-2016 season, the continuous Ben Simmons playoff disappearances and blunders and letting superstar guard Jimmy Butler leave in free agency, I still found myself enjoying Sixers games despite all of the poor decisions repeatedly made by management. 

Through all the disappointment of the “process” years, I always held the belief that brighter days were ahead for the Sixers. It was not until I had to endure the painful ending to the James Harden trade request saga that my attention and engagement for my favorite franchise in sports was at an all-time low.

The Harden experience is comparable to a slow, agonizing death, but it never begins that way. When Harden was first traded to the Sixers, all signs pointed to the team finally getting over the hump that continued to haunt them: the second round of the playoffs. Harden's Sixers tenure began with a bang, with the star dropping 27 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in a blowout win versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. Shooters seemed more open than ever before, and it seemed that with Harden’s combination of elite passing and scoring combined with the efforts of the 2022-2023 MVP Joel Embiid, the Sixers finally had found their point guard for the foreseeable future.

However, that very same season, as he always does come playoff time, Harden began to show his true colors. The Sixers, despite being arguably the more talented team, lost in six games to the Butler-led Miami Heat. Despite the painful loss–and the team continuing to fall short in the second round–vibes remained relatively high in Philadelphia, as this was Harden's first season with the team, and he was not even a member for a large portion of the season. After all, who knew what this team could accomplish with more time together to develop much needed chemistry?

Unfortunately for the Philadelphia faithful, the Sixers flameout in the 2021-2022 playoffs was not an anomaly and, in fact, was a sign of things to come, as Harden’s signature trend of choking when it matters most would continue. The very next season, Harden and the Sixers again found themselves fighting in a close series in the second round of the playoffs versus their biggest rival, the Boston Celtics. 

After five games, the Sixers were in control of the series and had a 3-2 lead. All they had to do was win one of the next two games, and they would finally reach the conference finals for the first time since 2001. Philly went on to suffer two embarrassing back-to-back losses, with Harden offering a measly nine points on inefficient shooting in a Game 7 that the Celtics won by a final score of 112-88.

Blowing a 3-2 series lead and losing to a historical rival in the Celtics in blowout fashion was difficult enough for Sixers fans to endure, but vibes around the team were set to become even more morbid as the summer and NBA free agency approached. 

As is now well-reported, Harden did not receive the long-term max contract that he believed he was entitled to after yet another massive playoff blunder. Harden, upon choosing himself to opt-into a player option with the Sixers, proceeded to immediately request a trade, and the circus was set into motion.

Harden, as he always does when he does not get exactly his way, began an offensive front against the Sixers front office, and in particular Daryl Morey, for the rest of the summer. During a media event in China, Harden addressed his trade request, saying, “Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he's a part of. Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he's a part of.”

Harden, as he seemingly always does, eventually got his way this past week, as the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers agreed on a deal that would finally free Philadelphians from the national embarrassment that was the Sixers over the course of the NBA summer. While many were quick to point out the lack of a star player the Sixers received in return from the trade, the Sixers have quietly been off to one of their best starts to a season in recent memory, starting 5-1 this season with their only loss being a narrow defeat to a team that many consider a favorite to reach the NBA Finals in the Milwaukee Bucks. While the loss of Harden may seem detrimental due to Harden’s statistical prominence, getting Harden out of the locker room was addition by subtraction for the new-look Sixers.

New additions to the team such as Kelly Oubre Jr., Nicolas Batum and Robert Covington have provided much needed shot-making, defense and depth, while long-tenured Sixers such as Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris have thrived without Harden. The vibe and energy around the team has been contagious, and Sixers fans are beginning to buy back into hopes that the franchise may be able contend this season.

Above all else, the Sixers are back to playing fun, fast-paced basketball, as without Harden dribbling the ball for the entire shot clock and then missing a contested step-back three, the team has learned to play team-first, egoless basketball. 

For Sixers fans, the future appears to be brighter than ever. Meanwhile, Harden is off to form a contender with the Clippers, and while a starting lineup including Paul George, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook may excite fans, it is only a matter of time before yet another disappointing moment under pressure from Harden, and yet another trade request from a player who has requested three trades in the span of three years.


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