In February, the question was who won the James Harden-Ben Simmons deal.
Now it comes to who lost it worse.
And now, Philadelphia has a Harden problem.
The former passive MVP assaulted his way out of the net to the Sixers again in February. But Harden’s season-ending performance on Thursday was so spoiled that people throughout the NBA are saying his time as a Super Max player won’t end during a potential extension. It’s already over.
What now begins is his time as a problem, with the Sixers facing options to pay him a potential malfunctioning max deal or let him walk.
Oh, they have options. They are all bad.
“I can’t commit to that if I’m a Sixers owner,” Amar’e Stoudemire, the former Nets development coach, who watched Harden for 1 1/2 seasons, said before Match 6. The dedication I need to see from one of the 75 best players. You have to have a certain level of dedication and focus to be the best player you can be, and also to be there for your teammates when they need you most.
“In Game 6 you’ll need him to play at a high level; and if he can’t – and as a max player – I’m not ready to now give you the maximum contract if you don’t show me that you can handle this situation.”
As often happens in elimination games, deal with the situation.
Sixers president Daryl Morey — who was with Harden in Houston — swiped his hand in an effort to reunite with his former star. So, not only did Nets general manager Sean Marks share his dissatisfaction with the Philadelphia problem, he extracted local material from Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, two first-rounders and two trade exceptions.
Brooklyn essentially gave up this year’s title to widen the window of contention, giving themselves a longer runway to break out of the chaos. Below Turnpike, 76 players have pushed all their chips to win now with Joel Embiid having a season MVP caliber. But that ended in a 99-90 loss in Game Six against Miami which may have been a rejuvenation for Harden’s career as a superstar.
The three-time scoring champ earned just 11 points in a 4-of-9 shot with nine assists, four boards and four turns. After Sixers fans mocked Simmons for scoring only three points in the last four quarters of a 2021 second-round loss, Harden went goalless in his last two editions.
“The ball moved and it didn’t come back to me,” Harden said afterwards. When asked if Rivers called plays to pass it on to him, Harden said “next question.”
And here’s the problem: Harden never needed them. He was the king of Izu.
But that was before the hamstring injury he suffered with the Nets last season. Years before partying and not taking care of himself he plotted with injuries to blow up his explosion. That’s why Thursday wasn’t a stifling job; It was much worse for Philadelphia. Harden could no longer carry a team.
“I don’t think it’s this season,” Stoudemire said. “Because [of] Not in the best condition. Don’t take your body too seriously.”
Most recently in the 2019-20 season, Harden blew by his defender 44.1 percent of his leadership. That fell to 30.3 per cent last season and to 29.1 per cent this season, According to Second Spectrum.
“Since we got it, everyone has been expecting Houston James Harden,” Embiid said. “But that’s not what it is anymore.”
So he cannot be paid as is. The net knew that. The 76ers are finding out.
Harden has a player option worth $47 million for next season. He could sign a four-year extension worth $223 million, or cancel the subscription and re-sign a five-year agreement for $269.9 million — an amount that would have paid out a grueling $61 million last year when he was 37 years old.
The 76ers committed to Doc Rivers as their coach on Friday morning. Are you stiff with him? When asked if he’ll sign up Thursday night, Harden said, “I’ll be here.”
But the question is should the 76ers want it? Smart money says no.