It has become clear over the course of the season – and especially in the playoffs – that the current version of James Harden isn’t the same one who earned the MVP award in 2018 with the Rockets, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, who suggests that recurring hamstring issues over the last couple years have slowed down the Sixers guard.
“Since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden,” Sixers star Joel Embiid said on Thursday, after the team lost Game 6 to the Heat and was eliminated from the postseason. “But that’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a play-maker.”
While it’s true that Harden is still an elite play-maker, he’s being paid like he’s also an elite scorer, with a $44.3MM salary this season and a $47.4MM player option for 2022/23.
There’s a belief in some league circles that Harden isn’t fully healthy and has bounce-back potential, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. However, according to Bontemps, the soon-to-be 33-year-old is viewed by many executives as more of a $25-30MM per year player than a superstar who should warrant a five-year, $270MM commitment this offseason.
During an ESPN appearance (video link), Amar’e Stoudemire, who saw Harden up close as a member of the Nets’ coaching staff this season, questioned the guard’s conditioning and advised the Sixers against offering a maximum-salary contract.
Harden, who will be eligible for a contract extension if he picks up his player option or a new free agent contract if he turns it down, suggested after Thursday’s loss that he would be open to taking less than his max, and an Eastern Conference scout who spoke to Bontemps said the 76ers would be wise to go that route.
“If there were any logic whatsoever, the answer (to giving him a max deal) would be no,” the scout said.
Here’s more out of Philadelphia:
- Asked after Thursday’s loss about his job security, head coach Doc Rivers defended his track record, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link). “I don’t worry about my job,” Rivers said. “I think I do a terrific job. If you don’t, then you should write it. I worked my butt off to get this team here. When I first got here, no one picked us to be anywhere. Again this year, the same thing.”
- After leaving Game 6 due to a left knee injury, Sixers swingman Danny Green will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the damage, a source tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There’s “significant concern” that Green’s injury is a serious one, as ESPN’s Tim Bontemps relays.
[UPDATE: Danny Green Diagnosed With Torn Left ACL, LCL]
- Having eliminated the 76ers from the postseason, former Sixer Jimmy Butler rubbed salt in the wound, according to Rich Hofmann of The Athletic, who notes that the Heat forward said in his postgame interview he wishes he were still playing with Embiid. On his way to the locker room after the game, Butler also referenced the 2019 offseason, when Philadelphia invested heavily in Tobias Harris as Butler departed for Miami. “Tobias Harris over me?!” Butler yelled, as captured by Miami’s WPLG Local 10 Sports (video link).
- ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) and Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype both preview the Sixers’ upcoming offseason, examining some of the biggest questions facing the franchise in the coming weeks and months.