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The Sixers Enter Another Summer Of Angst

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 11: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts to a play against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2023 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on May 11, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It had been a quiet offseason for the Sixers, basketball-wise. They didn’t have a draft pick. They also didn’t have the cap space for any big free-agent signings. The actual news the Sixers have been making this offseason is their fight with Chinatown residents over the team’s attempt to build an arena in Center City. The team keeps pretending the deal would be fully privately funded: It would keep a 30-year tax break from mall currently at the site, and the Inquirer reported the team was open to getting state funds. But rich people are going to get some free cash from the government one way or another; comments from Sixers arena developer David Adelman were much, much worse. He told Philadelphia magazine the proposed location for the arena has “shootings all the time.” It does not.

Arena-related shenanigans aside, it has been sloooooow. The fourth item in the “Latest News” section of the team’s website is: “Joe Gibbs Racing Announces Partnership with Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment and Arctos Partners.” I guess this is an improvement on previous Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment partnerships, though. “Josh Harris, David Blitzer and their entire team have a vision that has delivered winning franchises in basketball, hockey, soccer and youth sports,” Gibbs said in the press release, an incredible statement about a man that just bought the Washington Commanders. Maybe Gibbs was referencing the Delaware Blue Coats’ recent title.

To me the main thing of note was Daryl Morey tweeting a GIF of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown to make fun of Philadelphia Inquirer Sixers beat writer Keith Pompey. I am not sure who is Lucy and who is Charlie Brown. And who is the football? After the Sixers lost Game 6 at home to the Celtics, Pompey compared being a Sixers fan to having “a cousin with substance abuse” who steals your car and all your money, leaving you broke. A better joke would’ve been a GIF referencing that, but maybe it would’ve crossed a line. I’m certainly not writing one here.

Ahem. So it had been quiet. The biggest story besides that Morey tweet was Tobias Harris referencing a local cookie company when commenting on trade rumors. This somehow was picked up everywhere from Fox News (“Sixers’ Tobias Harris says casual fans would trade him for a ‘Crumbl Cookie;' brand responds”) to Rocky Top Insider (“Tobias Harris Fires Back at ‘Casual’ Philadelphia Fans with Crumbl Cookies Reference”). If you need a look at the state of media in 2023, please note that Sports Illustrated’s headline was worse than either of them: “Tobias Harris Made Crumbl Cookies Go Viral, and NBA Fans Had Jokes.” Not quite A-Rod getting CBS Mornings to let him talk about how he doesn’t floss, but pretty successful sponcon pickup. Maybe Defector Media can get Harris to plug us, next? Then again, do I really want people who get their sports commentary from Fox News to learn about this site? I’d even take Tennessee Volunteers fans over them!

Oh, sorry. I’ll get to it: It is no longer a quiet offseason for the 76ers. On Thursday, Shams Charania, a casino employee, reported that James Harden had exercised his $35.6 million player option for next season and asked to be traded to the Clippers. “It’s expected that Harden has played his last game for Philadelphia,” Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. The Athletic’s Sam Amick, who does not moonlight for a gambling cartel as far as I know, reported Harden was “extremely upset at the way in which the Sixers handled his possible free agency and has made his dissatisfaction clear to the organization.” This is how I feel when an editor assigns me the Monday morning blog. Maybe I can request a trade to a casino?

Perhaps this is an unpopular opinion among Sixers fans, casual or not, but I think Harden was good last year. He averaged 21-6-11. He led the league in assists. He won the Sixers two playoff games against the Celtics. Then he scored 21 points total over the team’s last two playoff games, both losses, shooting 7-27 in the process. After writing those numbers out, I now think Pompey’s comparison didn’t go far enough. He did a 9/11-themed ad read. I know he has it in him.

Joel Embiid, who was no prize in those season-ending clunkers, will be 30 by the end of next season. He’s signed through 2026, but it’s the NBA. Even players who seem to love their teams and cities can force trades for better situations. It took until Dr. J’s seventh season with the Sixers to win a title (the team’s most recent, in 1983). Maybe Embiid’s eighth season playing games could be the one where it happens. Maybe his ninth season will do it. By the time Erving won a title with the Sixers, he was 32. Embiid will likely be on a new contract by that age. The Harden thing was fine. It didn’t work out. Time to try something new. “Joel Embiid Is A Finite Resource,” Chris Thompson wrote here. Now there’s a good headline.

But. Oh geez. On Friday, the Sixers agreed to sign Patrick Beverley, a man who had a fascinating 2023 season that ended with him scoring three points in 52 minutes in two play-in games. Well, at least he’ll fit in. “Beverley was first to report the news on The Pat Bev Podcast with Rome’s Twitter account,” Pompey wrote. Last year was the worst season of Beverley’s NBA career, but he signed for the veteran minimum. The Sixers can’t really afford anyone. It’s all good.

Well. Until. Before I hit my 600-tweet limit on Saturday, I was reminded by Sixers podcaster and WFAN VP Spike Eskin that Beverley and Harden were buds. They’ve said nice things about each other, at least. Somehow I couldn’t see any tweets yesterday, but a friend notified me that she saw a tweet where Woj said on ESPN that “it’s more than conceivable” Harden stays in Philly next season. It turns out he said that it was "more than conceivable" that Harden is still in Philly by the time training camp starts, because the trade market for Harden could be slow to develop and because Morey is stubborn.

Morey used the Ben Simmons saga to demonstrate just how unwilling he is to bend to trade requests, and that brinksmanship resulted in Harden falling into his lap. But does he really think he can pull that off again? Is he going to preside over a second Sixers season in which one of his highest-paid players disappears from the team and leaves a huge hole in the roster? Or worse, does he expect an unhappy Harden to actually play and contribute while he waits for the perfect trade to come along? That could be fun to see, I suppose, just for the chance to see an NBA player make it through entire week’s worth of games without ever sprinting.

Either way, the Sixers will almost certainly be good again, thanks to Embiid's presence. But no matter what shakes out with Harden it’s hard to think they’d have a realistic shot at a title. I’d put better odds on the Sixers opening a new arena in the Color World. Plus it’s hard to know what’s true when reading about NBA trade rumors. Teams and agents are posturing to reporters; the Pat Bev Podcast may be the only source you can trust. The Sixers last title was in 1983; their last trip past the second round was 2001. Then again, it probably doesn’t matter. I’ll watch again, even as Daryl Morey pulls the football away from me just before I kick it. After all, I am a blockhead.

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