By Evan Sidery
One of the biggest NBA trade-deadline deals in modern history occurred on Thursday between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. No, that’s not hyperbolic, because James Harden is on the move to join forces with Joel Embiid in Philadelphia.
In total, the Sixers sent Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two-first round picks to the Nets for Harden and Paul Millsap. The former MVP immediately opted into the final year of his contract, so he’s set to make $47.3 million in 2022-23.
After the Nets’ shockingly short and uneventful Big Three era with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden, they reset with Simmons plus important win-now pieces. In Philadelphia, Harden and Embiid should form an incredibly potent duo.
Examining this trade from Philadelphia’s viewpoint, Harden allows the 76ers to capitalize on a historically dominant campaign from Embiid. Since Christmas, no player in the Association has done more damage to opposing teams than Embiid.
The Sixers’ superstar big man is averaging 33.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.4 blocks on an incredible 64.0 True Shooting percentage. Over that span, Philadelphia is 15-6 solely because of Embiid’s jaw-dropping usage (40.7 USG%) and dominance.
Philadelphia’s offense runs through Embiid as its hub. Even with Harden’s arrival, it will rightfully remain that way. The main difference is that Harden will take pressure (and some attention) off of Embiid, and vice versa.
Both players are All-NBA generational scorers for their positions, and some of the best offensive weapons in modern NBA history. If Harden and Embiid are fully healthy and locked in, the ceiling for this one-two punch is simply incredible. In any spurt, Harden or Embiid could catch fire and take the reins on the offensive flow. And if they get into a rhythm at the same time? That is basically basketball nirvana.
Harden will gladly be the No. 2 option in the Sixers’ offense behind Embiid, a role he yearned for when he originally requested a trade (and initially preferred the Nets over the Sixers). Harden has yet to experience a consistent stretch in Brooklyn where he can take a backseat for an extended period. This season, Harden is averaging 22.5 points, 10.2 assists and 8.0 rebounds in 37 minutes per game.
Now, alongside Embiid, Harden will be able to preserve his energy for when it matters most.
Sure, his defense has definitely regressed this season. However, what does a more relieved, refreshed Harden look like next to Embiid? While this is a questionable fit defensively, what they’ll provide in the scoring department more than makes up for it. Harden and Embiid could both be 30-plus-point-per-game scorers in Philadelphia for the next several seasons.
Pick-and-rolls between Harden and Embiid are going to be an unstoppable weapon that few, if any, teams can stop consistently over a seven-game series. Harden’s creative, historically successful scoring package will bring a much-needed change to the Sixers’ attack. On top of it all, Embiid’s excellence out of short-roll situations will only blossom when he’s surrounded by Harden and Tobias Harris.
If all goes as planned, Philadelphia is going to experience unprecedented levels of offensive efficiency. Pairing together Harden and Embiid was always Daryl Morey’s goal. It was a long, stubborn process to make it happen, but he won in the end by bringing this tandem aboard.
As if landing Harden isn’t exciting enough, the Sixers also managed to keep two instrumental building blocks who will fortify the Harden-Embiid duo: Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle.
Maxey is another piece who can alleviate possessions from the Sixers’ superstar scoring combo, and he’s taken a real leap forward in his second season. Thybulle is already an elite defender, and his presence will be maximized now that Simmons is gone for good. Philadelphia also has Danny Green, a reliable veteran wing with plenty of championship pedigree.
Incredibly enough, we haven’t even touched on Tobias Harris yet. Now, sliding into the preferred third-option role, Harris can focus on his floor-spacing value. Harden’s arrival coupled with Embiid’s gravity will allow Harris to execute on the easiest perimeter jumpers of his career.
Zooming out, here’s how the Sixers’ rotation projects for the rest of this season:
Starters: Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Second Unit: Shake Milton, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang, Paul Millsap
Is this enough to get Philadelphia over the top within a reshuffled Eastern Conference hierarchy? It’s going to be tough sledding in a few months, but Philadelphia stands out as my new favorite alongside the Milwaukee Bucks. Oddsmakers believe that today’s blockbuster trade triples the 76ers’ chances of winning it all, as Philly’s championship odds jumped from +1600 (or an implied 5.9% chance of winning the title) to +550 (or an implied 15.4% chance). They now have the fourth-best title odds in the NBA.
Good luck stopping the Harden-Embiid duo. Two of the Association’s most special scorers pairing up together will be must-watch theater for however long they remain together.
Morey’s long-awaited strike has arrived. In the end, he may have just pulled off a second career-defining trade involving Harden.
Produced in association with BasketballNews.com.
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