The city rejoiced last February when the Sixers dealt Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and picks for James Harden. Not only did Morey offload Simmons in the midst of an ugly holdout, but he was able to acquire an all-time great player in return.
The excitement quickly turned to anxiousness as the version of James Harden that the Sixers acquired looked to be far from what he was during his time in Houston. With the Rockets, Harden was the league’s number one best player and one of the best scorers of all time.
During his 21 games with the Sixers, Harden looked to be much less aggressive and looked to be a facilitator rather than a scoring threat. While he showed flashes of the scoring ability he had in Houston, it was not nearly consistent enough.
Harden averaged almost 11 assists per game and while he certainly did a great job of facilitating, the Sixers did not bring him here to do that. Harden being a pass-first point guard does not benefit the Sixers, in fact, that is exactly what Ben Simmons was. The fact of the matter is that Harden was brought to Philadelphia to score and he did not do enough of that down the stretch a season ago.
While Harden’s initial impression was underwhelming, there is still hope. For the first time since his Houston days, Harden looked to be engaged. At any given time Harden could be seen gesturing toward his teammates or coaching up young players like Tyrese Maxey, something that was never seen in his career. Between Harden’s leadership and his comments since the offseason has started, it looks like he is motivated. Harden has already been named a top player of all time, is widely regarded as the best shooting guard in history and has made millions of dollars over the course of his career, so what is there left to do?
For all of Harden’s individual accomplishments, he has never won the big game. Harden has played with great players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid but has never even gotten to an NBA Finals. This has clearly weighed on Harden as he has taken a new approach to his game and has even decided to take less money for the Sixers to build a contending team.
Are the Sixers going to get the James Harden of old? No, they will not, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It is clear that it was impossible for a team to win an NBA title with the old James Harden. Harden scoring 50+ points a night while chucking up 15 three-pointers clearly does not result in championships. If Harden can find a middle ground between the player he was last year and the player he was in Houston, the Sixers could have something special on their hands.
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