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NBA

Harden, Embiid lead 76ers’ bid to end 40-year NBA championship wait

With Joel Embiid and James Harden spearheading the project, the Philadelphia 76ers want to regain the NBA crown that has eluded them since 1983.

Update:
With Joel Embiid and James Harden spearheading the project, the Philadelphia 76ers want to regain the NBA crown that has eluded them since 1983.
Mark BlinchGetty Images

In Philadelphia, things remain clear. The franchise, which hasn’t got past the second round of the NBA Playoffs since the 2000/01 season, a campaign in which it reached the Finals with Allen Iverson at the helm, still has only one goal in mind: the championship. With the re-signing of James Harden, 32, and the continued motivation of Joel Embiid, 28, the Sixers don’t want to repeat past mistakes.

Perhaps since they set out on a path based around tanking (losing games on purpose to rebuild with good choices in the Draft), in Philadelphia they face one of their most exciting seasons. Harden’s arrival in February and the good relationship he forged with star man Embiid from the off open a new door to hope.

The main question that might play on the minds of Philadelphia fans is commitment. After the departure of Ben Simmons, the way it came about and what it meant to the team, Harden became the focus of the local and national press. This uncertainty was cleared up with the reduced contract signed by the former Thunder, Rockets and Nets player, with a view to finally creating a winning team.

James Harden during the Philadelphia 76ers' NBA Playoff series against the Miami Heat.
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James Harden during the Philadelphia 76ers' NBA Playoff series against the Miami Heat.Bill StreicherUSA TODAY Sports

Greater room for manoeuvre

The star turned down his $47.4 million player option to sign a new deal with the team. Harden will wear the Sixers jersey for two more seasons, with a player option of $36.3 million in 2023/24, at 34 years old. This movement will allow the franchise to have greater room for manoeuvre to create a more competitive squad for the coming year.

So much so that on 1 July, the day free agency opened, P.J. Tucker, one of the most coveted out-of-contract players and Harden’s team-mate in Houston, signed with Philadelphia for $32.3 million over three seasons.

Danuel House, another player whose contract was ending, also joined. Together with Tucker, he will bolster the defence next season. The 76ers’ defensive section may change entirely from last season since Danny Green, who seriously injured his knee in last seasons’ Playoffs, was traded to Memphis in exchange for De’Anthony Melton. And it seems that Matisse Thybulle, a defensive expert, may be traded.

Melton could prove one of the best dark-horse recruits made over the past few weeks. The former Grizzlies player can fill the roles that Tyrese Maxey was forced to do so well in last season. A point guard with presence beneath both baskets, he has developed significantly under the command of Taylor Jenkins in Memphis and, at 24 years of age, wants to be a key player in Philadelphia.

Maxey is perhaps the most important piece in the jigsaw. A player who grows and matures in each game, the former Kentucky man became the Sixers’ second swordsman in Simmons’ absence. Under Doc Rivers, he has come on leaps and bounds. Despite having two giants like Harden and Embiid in their ranks, the 76ers seem unlikely to compete if Maxey isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Joel Embiid (left) and James Harden in action for the Philadelphia 76ers.
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Joel Embiid (left) and James Harden in action for the Philadelphia 76ers.Tim NwachukwuAFP

Are opportunities running out?

With Embiid entering the last year of his contract ($33.6 million), this seems like the perfect opportunity to taste glory before doubts can invade the Congolese player with a French passport. For this reason, this summer seems crucial because, if the NBA has shown us one thing in the last five years, it is that the addition of veteran players ensures you perform well at key moments.

Although Harden, a 10-time All-Star and six-time member of the All-NBA First Team, isn’t at the level he used to reach, the shooting guard averaged 21 points, 10.5 assists, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals in the 21 regular season games he played with Philadelphia in 2021/22. By his side he will have center Embiid, one of the fittest players in recent years, and a player who is hungrier than ever.

Meanwhile, in terms of departures, in addition to the aforementioned Thybulle, Tobias Harris could serve as a bargaining chip to finish completing a total revamp in Philadelphia. The 30-year-old will earn $37.6 million next season, so his departure will not be straightforward.

The 76ers’ elimination against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals was a turning point in the project. All or nothing is the mindset of Daryl Morey, the franchise’s general manager, who fully trusts a man who was his franchise player during his time in the Houston front office. It’s a unique opportunity to write his name in history. The championship is the end of the journey, and the last train from Philadelphia is leaving.

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