IN EARLY MARCHDaryl Morey wore a blazer while he was on-stage at Boston's Hynes Convention Center to kick off the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. blue blazer over a red shirtThis cartoon was featured in James HardenHis famous internet meme shows's face.
Morey stated that, “Seize The Data aside, the conference's theme is reuniting.” Philadelphia 76ersCo-founder of the stats Symposium nearly 20 years back, president of basketball operations.
“I was fortunate enough to be reunited with my basketball Jesus.”
Morey's executive career has been defined by two things: his efforts to popularize analytics in the NBA and his eight-year partnership and collaboration with Harden. Houston Rockets.
One month prior, Morey had finished his year-long quest to reunite with his former MVP. Morey marked the occasion with a photo taken from a tarmac near Harden's private jet.
The caption: a single trophy emoji.
“Our mission, which has been given to nous [it's]The whole reason why everyone on the team are really here,” Morey stated at Harden’s introductory news conference just a few days later.[General manager Elton Brand is]Here to win a prize [Coach Doc Rivers]You are here to win a title.
“It's not finished business for us all. … We knew from the beginning that Ben was going to die. [Simmons]It was stated that, if we were to do a trading, it would have to be for. [a player]we believed could allow us compete at a high-level.
“And, because this league is so complicated, you must get players with the caliber and experience of James Harden to partner with a Joel EmbiidTobias [Harris]. Without it, you can't win.”
Morey's thinking was also an assumption. Harden finished second or first in MVP voting in four of their five seasons together in Houston.
It's clear, however, that Harden's MVP-level version is no longer available.
He was certainly not present in the most important game of Philadelphia's season. Everything was at stake in Game 6 against the Eastern Conference semifinalist. Miami HeatHarden was not a factor. Harden finished the game with 11 points and 9 assists, as well as 4 turnovers. He gave the ball away with less than 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. This led to Bam AdebayoHarden and his team returned to the bench after Harden's fast break bucket — which sent boos down from the sold out crowd inside Wells Fargo Center.
Miami finally beat Philadelphia in the postseason. This sent the 76ers to their fourth loss in five seasons.
Is there a future in Harden and the Sixers?
“This is their mattress,” said an executive from the Western Conference. “They are making it, they're going to sleep in it, and it's not going to f—ing work.”
THE HARDEN EMBIIDPartner shouldMakes sense.
Harden has been an elite NBA offense for the past decade. Harden's nearly 8,000 isolated plays between 2013-14 and 2019-20 — when Second Spectrum began to track data — was more than any other player.
These plays were his best in the league, scoring an average of 1.10 points. He shot 734 step-back 3 pointers in that time span, which is more than 500 points more than any other player.
The plan: Harden and Embiid would be a formidable offensive team. Harden is arguably the league’s most dominant force. Embiid is another of the league's elite foul-drawers, and a finalist in the NBA's Most Valuable Player award.
The early returns were great. Harden averaged at least 25 points and shot at least 50% in each of his four games as a Philadelphia 76er — all wins.
After the falling of the New York KnicksDuring their second game together, Harden & Embiid shot 37 free throws each. The big man gave a simple overview:
Embiid laughed and declared, “Unstoppable.”
These early performances were outliers. Harden only managed to surpass those benchmarks in the final 29 games of this season, which included Philadelphia's 12 postseason matches. Milwaukee BucksOn March 29, he struck them both simultaneously.
Harden's athleticism and burst were his greatest assets. They allowed him to reach the basket at will, and his stepback jumper was one of the most difficult shots in NBA history.
However, recurring hamstring injuries in the past two seasons have stopped that burst. Harden was able to pass his defender on 44.1% percent of his drives in 2019-20 according to Second Spectrum. This percentage fell to 30.3% last year and to 29.1% in 2019-20.
Harden's offensive efficiency is on the decline. For the first time since his rookie season, Harden's effective field goal percentage has fallen below 50%. Only two players attempted more than 300 layups or dunks in this season's Second Spectrum. RJ BarrettThey were less than half the price.
Those problems were a major concern during the playoffs. The opponent was two athletic defenses. Toronto RaptorsHarden was in the first round, and Heat in the conference semifinals. He had a series pedestrian performances, with occasional moments of brilliance.
Harden was able to shoot 44.2% in the postseason's paint, according to Second Spectrum. This is Harden’s lowest percentage in playoffs where he has played multiple rounds. Harden made 32 field goals against Miami and committed 29 turnovers. His 0.88 points per chance of drives against the Heat was his lowest point since 2014.
Harden scored more than 30 points in the playoffs once, in Philadelphia's Game 4 victory over Miami. He struggled to score inside. Harden's postseason shooting percentages of 40.4% overall and 43.8% for 2-point shots was his lowest in eight years. His highest turnover rate was in the postseason, while he also saw a lower usage rate than during any of his Houston years.
Doc Rivers, the Philadelphia 76ers coach and Harden's team mates tried multiple times to adjust their expectations as the playoffs progressed. Harden remains an elite playermaker and is the only pure point-guard on Philadelphia's roster.
Harden also mentioned the possibility of his game changing from a one man show to more of a faciliting role.
Harden stated that he was the communicator and organizer who has always tried to get men in the right places after Game 3. “I think.” [that's the case]More now than ever
Harden has been a driving factor in Philadelphia's success offensively in the playoffs. Harden's offensive output on the court averages 114.7 points per 100 possessions, which is comfortably in the top five of the league during regular season.
Philadelphia's offensive rating drops to 101.5 when he is on the bench. This would be easily the lowest in the NBA.
Joel Embiid was out of Games 1 and 2 against Miami for the Sixers. However, both games were winnable thanks to middling performances from the Heat. Kyle Lowry. Harden, however, was only 11-for28 from the field, including 3-for-12 shooting from the 3-point line.
Doc Rivers, the 76ers coach said that “it's not about James” after Philly's loss in Game 1.It's all about them. We are all part of a team. Therefore, we must play better together. “It is not one man who will pick up the slack for Joel not being there.”
However, the reasoning behind trading Harden was to have exactly this.
Harden's 2022 playoffs are a good example of how difficult his free agency potential will be for everyone involved.
IN TRADING FORHarden, Morey, and the 76ers expected their season would end in a different spot than last year. It ended up with the same result, but with different problems.
Philadelphia's postseason ended last year with its All Star point guard failing to score an open dunk against a lower-seeded opponent in Game 7 at home.
Philadelphia's postseason was ended this year with its All Star point guard going 4-for-9. Philadelphia lost Game 6 at home to a Miami team that missed Lowry for the fourth consecutive time in six games.
There are some mitigating factors, most notably Embiids' injuries. This loss is however about Harden. Morey admits that he was the final piece of the puzzle. HadWork.
“This is literally our method to pair Joel and Tobias with another impact player to give us a real chance of winning,” Morey stated in a radio interview two week before Harden was acquired at the deadline. He also explained the importance to complete any Simmons trade.
“And if there's a minor trade, it will only be because we feel better that there's names on the court. That will hurt Joel and the 76ers. That will hurt our roster long-term more than if they're patient.”
Philadelphia is at risk of being hurt again this summer.
Why? Because of Harden’s uncertain contractual situation.
Harden-Simmons swap completed. Philadelphia was expecting Harden to opt in to the last year of his contract. Harden didn't opt in, however — and he was very direct when asked why.
Harden said, “Everything happened quickly.” “I wanted to get there and take my time, but most importantly I wanted to focus on the end goal, which is winning a championship.”
Harden entered this season with the expectation of signing a new max contract. Lowry is a veteran point guard who has been in the game for many years. Chris PaulAnd Mike ConleyThe average season extension was between $25-$30 million. This is far less than Harden's $47 million option year and much lower than the $270 million he could earn over five years if Harden declines that option.
The 37-year old Paul was brilliant in his second season with Phoenix. However, Harden is more comparable to the veteran, steadying presences of these types than to high-paying players.
Harden may try to find money elsewhere, but only a few teams have the resources — most of them are rebuilding without the need for a high-priced guard who will be 33 in August — and there is plenty of cap space this year. Any team, including the 76ers, should be concerned about Harden's full max contract.
“Would you agree to let him go along with a little more? An Eastern Conference scout said, “I don’t know.” “If logic were possible, the answer would be obvious.” [to giving him a max deal]”
Harden's postseason failures are not uncommon in his career. Harden disappeared in Game 6 of the 2017 Western Conference semifinals. He went 2-for-11 when the Rockets defeated him. San Antonio Spurs on their home courtWhile Kawhi LeonardObserved in street clothes Harden and the Rockets made 27 consecutive 3-pointers against the odds in Game 7. Golden State WarriorsIn the 2018 West finals, the Warriors lost to an injured team.
He has clashed with many star teammates, including Dwight HowardChris Paul Russell WestbrookTo Kevin DurantIrving
But his arrival in Philadelphia was an opportunity to change the story. It was enough for the city to get tired of the Simmons story that having Harden on the court was enough for him to be a source of greatwill.
The franchise's second failed playoff run ended with Harden's disappearance in the elimination game. Harden was completely unengaged in Game 6. He took and missed just two shots, and finished the game with nine.
Rivers called for timeout after Rivers drained his starters in 68 seconds. Jimmy ButlerAs fans gathered around the arena's bowl, it was closing time for the 76ers' regular season. They offered one last round of boos.
Harden stated at his introductory conference, “I'm in an area where I can make the best James Harden I could be on court.”
Harden's best days are over, but so is Harden's. The future of both the 76ers and Harden is uncertain three months after they were reunited in what appeared to be a perfect long-term union.