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Where Do James Harden and the 76ers Go From Here?

May 7, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) against the Boston Celtics during game four of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers officially ended trade talks surrounding James Harden, who requested to be moved from the team in June. Harden’s hopes of reuniting with Russell Westbrook and Paul George have been dashed, and he will stick around in a city that’s feeling anything but “Brotherly Love.”

Where Do James Harden and the 76ers Go From Here?


After back-to-back second-round exits to the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, it appeared that Harden’s year-and-a-half-long stint in Philly was over. The six-foot-five star averaged 20.3 points, 8.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game on 39/38/87 splits during the Sixers’ playoff run last season. But despite his best attempts to lead a team with MVP Joel Embiid, it didn’t work out.

Despite his standout start with the Oklahoma City Thunder and his incredible run with the Houston Rockets, the last few years of Harden’s career have been a different story. Since 2020, not only did his game change, but his teams did, too. He went from a dominating scorer on the Rockets to a balanced facilitator for the Brooklyn Nets, committed to being the second or third option in favor of greater team success next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Though he played his role well, the Nets were unable to make things work, ending with Harden jumping ship for Philly and the team falling apart soon after. He played the same role in Philadelphia, but the results are clearly not up to par.

It appeared that history would repeat itself when Harden asked out in June, eyeing a return to his hometown Los Angeles and the reunion with Russ and PG. However, the talks deteriorated after the Clippers were unwilling to offer young talent (e.g. Terance Mann) and only offered veterans on expiring contracts.

Now, we have a star player who no longer wants to be there, set to return to a franchise that didn’t want to trade him to his desired destination. Sound familiar?

What Happens Now?

With both sides at a standstill—and Harden notably deciding not to report to training camp—it leaves plenty of more questions than answers around Philadelphia’s future. As things stand right now, there are several ways both sides could proceed.

James Harden

The simple answer on Harden’s side would be, “make it work.” However, it isn’t that easy. Sure, he can continually improve his game on both ends and attempt to remedy the playoff mistakes of his past. However, Harden’s attitude off the court is the difference-maker heading into next season. He almost ended up on his fourth team in four years, something that shouldn’t get past the Sixers. Still, he appears stubborn enough and willing to play the long game—hopefully, not as long as the six months it took Philly to trade Ben Simmons.

For someone who’s about doing what it takes to win, this must include sticking around for the long haul, reporting to training camp, and, ultimately, being a good player and teammate. It’s all criteria that will prove critical heading into free agency next summer. Harden has adjusted his game to make things work. However, changing his mindset will be key if he wants to salvage his relationship with the Sixers.

The 76ers

Just as Harden is sticking to his points, the Sixers should prove they can play that game, too. They’ve taken solid measures to surround Harden and Embiid with pieces to contend for a championship. The Sixers have stuck with role players who can excel at a high level over big names who don’t fit the picture. Keeping Harden around is clearly a priority for them, and rightfully so. The Sixers did right by not giving in to Harden’s demands. Pretty much any return for the 33-year-old would’ve likely put them a step backwards toward their title hopes. They’re entering next season expecting major growth from the supporting cast, in addition to dominance from the reigning MVP and consistency from a gifted offensive talent.

Not only should the Sixers keep Harden around and accountable, but they must also look at other areas of improvement. Perhaps this is the season where they finally trade Tobias Harris and his massive contract. Or they ask Nick Nurse to give certain players more opportunities to capitalize on their development. They can’t just stand idly by and focus on controlling one player.

The Sixers must look at their past—filled with consistent turnover and second-round exits—and decide their fate. Do they really want to move Harden and risk repeating a negative cycle? Or do they want to help Harden and Embiid by sticking to their current roster one more time?

The answer is simple. Granted, things could change before the coming weeks, and a satisfactory deal for Harden could finally materialize. However, the Sixers must work with what they have now to build a sustainable winning product for the future.

The Last Word

Ultimately, what happens in Philadelphia is up to the player and franchise to decide where they want to go together. Harden and the 76ers have another season to repair a fractured relationship with each other. Thus, both sides must put aside their differences and stubbornness to make things work. This is the most important season for both sides, with Harden entering a contract year and the Sixers deciding on his future with the franchise. Therefore, Harden needs to return to the team with the right mindset, and the Sixers must be set on keeping him and proving they made the right decision.


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