Like most teams from across the league’s landscape, the Philadelphia 76ers will look different at the start of the 2023-24 NBA season than they did at the conclusion of the previous campaign. The question is, just how different will they look?
Some roster changes have already occurred. Role players Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Shake Milton have all signed elsewhere, while the Sixers added veteran guard Patrick Beverley and center Mo Bomba in order to bolster their bench. Those adjustments are relatively minor, though, and ultimately Philadelphia’s starting five could look very similar to the team that was eliminated by the Boston Celtics in seven games in May, despite swirling speculation regarding the future of a couple of key contributors.
First off, James Harden’s departure from Philadelphia might not be as imminent as it appeared to be last week, when he opted into his $35 million player option next season while simultaneously requesting a trade away from the team that traded for him less than two years ago. Harden is reportedly upset with the way that Philadelphia’s front office handled his free agency, and that resulted in his request.
The Sixers, however, reportedly hope to convince Harden to play out the final year of his current contract in Philly (Daryl Morey’s long-time relationship with Harden could help there), and their public stance continues to be that they’ll only trade the former MVP if a deal is beneficial for the franchise. In other words, they’re in no rush to make a move. Patience has been Morey’s mantra since he arrived in Philadelphia, and that measured approach will continue to be the course.
Harden, meanwhile, was seen partying and posing for pictures with several of his Sixers teammates including Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey over the Fourth of July holiday. This would seem to indicate that Harden’s frustration with the franchise is reserved for the front office and/or ownership and doesn’t trickle down to the guys he shares the floor with.
By practicing patience, the Sixers run the risk of further upsetting Harden, which could potentially lead to him simply sitting out until his trade wish is granted, just as Ben Simmons did with the Sixers a couple of years ago. However, the difference is that Simmons had already signed a guaranteed max contract prior to his holdout, while Harden currently has no guaranteed money to his name after the ’23-24 season. For that reason, it’s in Harden’s best interest to play — and to play well — next season, as he’ll be seeking a fresh deal next summer. Sitting out or playing poorly out of spite could severely dampen his future earning potential.
Perhaps Morey will indeed be able to convince Harden to stay in Philadelphia for another year. He’s going to get paid the same amount of money regardless of where he plays after all, and the Sixers provide him with a legitimate chance to compete for a title alongside reigning MVP Joel Embiid. If Harden is resolute in his decision though, don’t expect the Sixers to rush into a deal, even if delaying one means running the risk of entering training camp with a disgruntled star player for the second time in three years.
Then there’s Tobias Harris. Harris is no stranger to trade rumors — he’s found himself mentioned in them consistently over the course of his career. This offseason is no different, as there has been rampant speculation that the Sixers could look to flip his expiring contract in order to upgrade the roster around Embiid. But the organization is employing the same patient approach to a potential Harris deal as it is with Harden’s future.
All offers for Harris this offseason will be considered, but again, a deal will only be made if it clearly makes the team better in the present. There is currently no traction on any potential deal involving Harris, according to a league source.
The way the Sixers see it, they have until the trade deadline in February to find a suitable deal for Harris before running the risk of losing him for nothing next offseason. There’s a real possibility that more intriguing offers could emerge closer to that deadline, as some teams will be eager to bolster their rosters for a playoff push, while others would be interested in adding an expiring salary to free up future salary cap space. In the meantime, the Sixers view Harris as a productive player who is also a positive presence to have in the locker room.
The Sixers also want to maintain future financial flexibility. They project to have a substantial amount of salary cap space next summer with both Harris’ and Harden’s contracts coming off of the books, and they don’t want to take back long-term salaries in trades in order to protect that flexibility, with a few obvious exceptions. This limits the number of potential deals that the Sixers would be interested in, as does the fact that they’re firmly in win-now mode, which means that a package based on future picks or unproven players likely wouldn’t move the needle for the franchise.
With all factors considered, there’s a world where it’s feasible that both Harden and Harris are still on Philadelphia’s roster when the season starts in October. Embiid obviously isn’t going anywhere, and Maxey, one of the brightest young stars in the league, is currently completely unavailable in any trade talks despite the fact that the organization P.J. Tucker also still has two years remaining on the three-year deal he signed with the team last summer. So, the Sixers running it back with the same first five they had last season is a possibility.this offseason.
While fans in Philly are clamoring for change — and understandably so after another underwhelming second-round exit — Harris thinks that the team has enough to truly contend as currently constructed, and that the unit could benefit from some consistency — something there hasn’t been too much of in recent years when it comes to the Sixers.
“I believe we have the right talent to be a championship team, and we have the right pieces and the right culture,”. “With a new coach, I’m excited for what we’re going to bring to the table. … Every year in the NBA, teams shake up. And sometimes, the teams that stay together and build their culture, build their chemistry, those are the ones that prevail… I’m excited to come back, bring this group back, add a few pieces that help us out as a whole team and be ready to win.”
Harden obviously doesn’t feel the same as Harris, but that could change with time. He will be free to sign wherever he wants next summer, but in the meantime Philadelphia is in control of the situation, and Harden suiting up for a Sixers squad that again projects to be a contender in the East could ultimately prove to be the best option for both sides.