James Harden

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Rivers, Knicks, Flynn

Sixers guard James Harden was still an elite player in 2021/22, but his numbers began trending in the wrong direction and he appeared to have lost the explosive first step that defined his MVP-caliber seasons, writes Tommy Beer of BasketballNews.com.

With Harden set to turn 33 this summer, giving him a long-term, maximum-salary contract could cripple the Sixers and would be borderline “organizational malpractice,” Beer argues. Still, Philadelphia can’t afford to let him walk, since doing so wouldn’t actually open up any meaningful cap room and the team is under pressure to maximize Joel Embiid‘s prime.

As Beer outlines, it will be fascinating to see how those contract discussions play out this offseason, since both sides have some leverage concerns. The Sixers can’t afford to lose Harden, but it will be difficult for the former MVP to play hardball in negotiations, considering none of the teams projected to have cap room are expected to seriously pursue him.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has made it clear that the plan is for Doc Rivers to remain the head coach going forward, prompting Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com to consider whether that decision is the right one for the franchise.
  • Former Knicks center Eddy Curry has confidence in the abilities of executives Leon Rose and William Wesley to turn things around in New York, writes Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Curry said Knicks fans shouldn’t focus on Rose’s lack of public statements and press conferences, since it’s “not his personality” to be in the public eye. “Regardless of how often you see him, you better believe he’s making things happen behind closed doors,” said Curry, who worked with Rose and Wesley during his playing career.
  • Eric Koreen of The Athletic wonders if Raptors point guard Malachi Flynn could benefit from a change of scenery and identifies some other players in a similar boat whom Toronto could target in a potential Flynn trade, including Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, and Udoka Azubuike.
  • In case you missed it, we rounded up a series of Celtics notes earlier today.

And-Ones: Super Teams, LeBron, Draft Sleepers, Foster

The super-team model for winning an NBA championship is becoming less effective, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. The Nets and Sixers are two of the latest examples to fail with that strategy, both by acquiring James Harden. The Big Three in Brooklyn captured just one playoff series before Harden was shipped to Philadelphia, where his pairing with Joel Embiid resulted in a second-round exit.

In the Western Conference, injuries have prevented Kawhi Leonard and Paul George from reaching their full potential with the Clippers, Bondy notes, and the Lakers’ decision to team Russell Westbrook with LeBron James and Anthony Davis was a complete disaster. Bondy adds that the teams remaining in the playoffs were all built mainly through the draft, with later additions focusing mainly on defense.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • James tops the list of the world’s 100 highest-paid male athletes released this week by Sportico. James made $36.9MM in salary over the past year and $90MM in endorsements, putting him $4.6MM ahead of soccer star Lionel Messi. Three other NBA players finished in the top 10: Stephen Curry at No. 6 with total earnings of $86.2MM, Kevin Durant at No. 7 with $85.9MM and Harden at No. 9 with $76MM. It’s the most James has ever earned over a 12-month stretch, according to Kurt Badenhausen of Sportico.
  • Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated lists five unheralded players to keep an eye on in this year’s draft. On his list are North Carolina State freshman guard Terquavion Smith, Alabama senior guard Keon Ellis, Connecticut senior forward Tyrese Martin, Loyola Chicago senior guard Lucas Williamson and Texas Tech senior forward Bryson Williams. Woo doesn’t expect them all to be drafted, but he does believe they’ll exceed expectations and carve out a spot in the NBA.
  • Marcus Foster, who played for the Rockets’ G League affiliate in Rio Grande Valley this season, has signed with Promitheas Patras for the Greek League playoffs, according to Sportando. The 26-year-old guard, who was in Houston’s training camp prior to the start of the season, has an option to sign with an NBA or EuroLeague team this summer.

Sixers Notes: Harden, Thybulle, Embiid, Toughness

As we previously relayed, when James Harden was asked whether he’d opt in to his $47.37MM player option for next season, he said, “I’ll be here.”

Following up on Harden’s statement, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey confirmed that the team plans on having the former MVP on its roster going forward.

That’s the plan, is to have him back,” Morey said, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “That’s been the plan since the trade. Obviously, we have to work with his representation and that’ll be between us to figure out how that works.”

Morey added that improving the defense will be a focus in the offseason, while coach Doc Rivers said the team needs to improve its toughness.

Well, I think it’s something that our players can grow,” Morey said of a lack of mental toughness being a common theme in exit interviews with players. “I mean, going through losses and how you respond to that and how you take it as your own look in the mirror. I think we all need to look in the mirror and say, ‘How can we each be better?’ … And that goes for myself as well.”

Here’s more from Philadelphia:

  • In an appearance on “Get Up,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said, Nobody in the NBA believes that the Sixers are going to give James Harden a max contract.” If Harden is willing to take a pay cut to improve the team’s financial flexibility, Windhorst points to Chris Paul‘s contract structure with the Suns as something that might work for both sides. Paul declined his $44MM player option last summer and signed a four-year, $120MM contract, but only $75MM is guaranteed.
  • Matisse Thybulle, who was only partially vaccinated and thus ineligible to play in Toronto, was removed from the starting lineup for the postseason after starting 50 of 66 regular season games. Thybulle was asked at his exit interview whether he regretted his decision to not get fully vaccinated, with the hindsight that it impacted his performance and – by his own admission – his confidence. However, Thybulle said he was content with his choice and had no regrets, according to Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice (Twitter link). Thybulle averaged 25.5 minutes per contest in the regular season, but just 15.2 during the playoffs.
  • Joel Embiid was understandably frustrated that his otherwise-healthy season ended with injuries, writes Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I’m not looking for any excuses, but those are just the facts,” Embiid said of his orbital fracture and torn thumb ligament. “It [stinks]. I don’t think anybody would believe that I was 100%, so it does [stink] to get to this stage and not be yourself, not being able to do what you want and your body not allowing you to just be yourself … I would say [I should] try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but those are freak injuries. If it happens, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
  • Rivers’ comments about improving the team’s toughness were initiated by Embiid, who said the Sixers have “never had P.J. Tucker” during his tenure, a nod to Tucker’s hard-nosed defense and all-out effort. “[He] believes that he can get from Point A to Point B and he believes that no one can beat him,” Embiid said of Tucker, per Mizell. “They [Miami] have a few of those guys. … Since I’ve been here, I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those type of guys. Nothing against what we have. It’s just the truth.”

Sixers Notes: Harden, Rivers, Green, Butler, Offseason

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.

James Harden On Player Option: I’ll Be Here

Following his disappointing performance in the decisive Game 6 of the Sixers’ playoff series against Miami, James Harden was asked if he’ll opt in to the final year of his contract, Derek Bodner of The Daily Six newsletter tweets.

“I’ll be here,” Harden said after Philadelphia’s 99-90 loss and elimination.

Harden, who has a $47.366MM option on the final year of his contract, indicated back in February that he plans to opt in. He could also decline the option and sign a new contract with the 76ers.

There has been plenty of speculation whether the Sixers would pursue extension talks with Harden after the blockbuster trade with the Nets. Harden’s lack of production in the postseason has put the Sixers in a difficult spot.

Harden, who would be in the final year of a four-year, $171MM contract if he picks up his option, suggested he’d be open to taking less than the max in an extension. Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice tweets.

“Whatever it takes to help this team continue to grow,” he said.

Harden resembled his old superstar self in Game 4 of the series, piling up 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. He had 22 points and 15 rebounds in the playoff clincher against Toronto.

Otherwise, he didn’t produce at the level Philadelphia hoped. Harden took only two shots in the second half and scored just 11 total points in 43 minutes on Thursday in the Sixers’ last game of the year.

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Celtics, D. White, Simmons

In Sunday’s Game 4 win over Miami, the Sixers got to see the version of James Harden they’ve been waiting for, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Harden looked like the perennial MVP candidate he was in Houston as he scored 31 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, and made six three-pointers, his most in a single game since being acquired from the Nets in February.

Harden took control from the start, taking 18 shots and 10 three-point attempts, which marked his second-highest totals in both categories since coming to Philadelphia. He also shot 10 free throws, the most he’s had in a game since the playoffs began. With two straight wins since Joel Embiid returned, the Sixers are feeling good as they head back to Miami in a tied series.

“We’re getting more confident as the series goes on,” Harden said. “Those first two games [were] a blur. But obviously, having Joel and having our full team, we kind of know what to expect. We know where to execute on both ends of the ball. It just makes the job a lot easier. Think about: We’re still a fairly new team. We’re damn near two months. So when we finally catch a rhythm and finally find something that works, Joel goes off for a couple games. So we’re finally settling into the series, and we’ve had some great things that have worked tonight and that we can capitalize off in Game 5.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Celtics‘ turnaround can be traced to a January game at Washington, Bontemps observes in a separate story. Coming off a tough loss to the Trail Blazers, Boston took advantage of Jayson Tatum‘s 51-point night in a rout of the Wizards. From that point through the end of the regular season, the Celtics posted the NBA’s best record at 28-7 and led the league in both offensive and defensive rating. “After that game, we just had this mentality and mindset and this sense of urgency that we can feel that a change was starting,” Marcus Smart said. “Once that got rolling, and we got on the right track, it was just smooth sailing from there.”
  • Coach Ime Udoka believes the changes the Celtics made at the trade deadline were critical to the team’s success, Bontemps adds. They acquired Derrick White from the Spurs, filling the roles that previously belonged to Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder. “If I could have picked the guy who would have been the perfect guy to come in and complement our group, it’s [White],” Udoka said. “He’s a better offensive player than J-Rich, and a much better defender than Dennis, so you kind of get those guys combined into one.”
  • Brian Lewis of The New York Post traces the significant events involving Nets forward Ben Simmons since he played his last game and suggests there’s increased optimism about next season in the wake of his back surgery.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Fine, Maxey, Harden

Joel Embiid never had any doubts about playing Friday night as long as he received medical clearance, writes Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice. Embiid didn’t clear concussion protocol until Friday morning and had to wear a mask to protect his broken orbital bone, but he logged more than 36 minutes as the Sixers picked up their first win in the series with Miami.

“It was a struggle,” Embiid said, “really because of the concussion and dealing with a bunch of symptoms. But I’m glad it went away and I’m glad that I’m back. I really want to win, and I feel like we have a big chance to win it all. Obviously, we got to stay healthy and we all got to play well at the same time. … Down 2-0, I had to do really everything possible to be out there no matter, how much I was feeling. I’m just glad that we got the win.”

Embiid wasn’t dominant on offense, scoring 18 points and making 5-of-12 shots from the field, but he made a bigger difference on defense, providing a mobile rim protector that Philadelphia was lacking in the first two games.

“He’s the anchor, he knows all the coverages, and he’s talking to us,” Tyrese Maxey said. “He’s seven-foot one, he’s a big body down there, it’s hard to go in there and drive into him, and he makes it difficult for the opposing team. We really do appreciate him for that.”

There’s more from Philadelphia:

  • The Sixers were fined $50K for failing to follow the league’s reporting rules on injuries, the NBA announced (Twitter link). Embiid was listed as doubtful going into Game 3. The Suns were fined $25K last week for a similar offense involving Devin Booker.
  • After turning in a scoreless first half for the first time all season, Maxey responded with a record-setting performance in the second half, notes Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia. He made five shots without a miss, which is the most ever in franchise history for a second half in the postseason.
  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic examines the possibilities that James Harden and the Sixers have available for his next contract. Harden holds a $47.4MM player option for next season, and Leroux notes that his best financial option would be to opt in and extend the current deal, giving him potentially $270MM+ over five years. However, there are plenty of other options if Harden is willing to accept less than the maximum.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Rivers, Thybulle, Harden

Sixers center Joel Embiid suspected that he had a concussion and a broken bone in his face immediately after being struck by Pascal Siakam‘s elbow in the closing moments of their first-round series, writes Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Embiid went through a similar injury four years ago in a collision with then-teammate Markelle Fultz. That resulted in a break of the opposite orbital bone and forced Embiid to have surgery to relieve pressure in his eye. It appears he will avoid surgery this time, and he’s hoping to be able to return for Game 3 or 4 against Miami.

After several days of concussion symptoms, Embiid’s sensitivity to light improved enough by Wednesday that he was able to FaceTime with coach Doc Rivers and watch the Sixers battle the Heat in Game 2, sources tell Shelburne. The team has a mask ready for Embiid in case he’s able to play, but he probably won’t need goggles like he did in 2018, according to Shelburne’s sources.

Embiid remains determined to play as soon as he clears concussion protocols, Shelburne adds, and his return may be Philadelphia’s only hope of climbing out of a 2-0 hole.

There’s more from Philadelphia:

  • Rivers credits Heat president Pat Riley with getting him interested in coaching, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Their relationship dates back to 1992, when Riley was coaching the Knicks and the team acquired Rivers to be its point guard. “I’ve been around some pretty good guys,” Rivers said. “But Riley, clearly, had the biggest impact. It’s not even close. I mean, I had no thoughts of coaching until I played for Pat Riley and the way he did it, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.’”
  • The Sixers must dramatically improve their shooting to have a chance at a comeback, observes Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice. While Matisse Thybulle‘s defense has been valuable, Philadelphia’s offense suffers when he’s on the court, especially with Embiid unavailable. “We needed Matisse on the floor,” Rivers said. “I thought he did an excellent job overall on Tyler Herro, but now you got Matisse and [DeAndre Jordan], or Matisse and Paul [Reed] on the floor, and they’re really just playing a two-man zone off of those two guys. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
  • James Harden has been the target of a lot of criticism since arriving in Philadelphia, but he and Embiid have been incredibly efficient as a pick-and-roll combination, notes Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (video link). That’s one of the factors the team will have to consider this summer as Harden becomes eligible for a four-year extension worth more than $220MM.

Atlantic Notes: Irving, Harden, Horford, Knicks

Appearing on The ETCs with Kevin Durant podcast, Nets guard Kyrie Irving said he never felt like he was fully “back” during the 2021/22 season. Irving’s decision to not get vaccinated against COVID-19 meant he didn’t make his debut until January and only appeared in a total of 29 regular season games. It also meant he was uncertain in the first couple months of the season about whether he’d even suit up for Brooklyn again.

“I was wondering at home what my future was going to look like, you know?” Irving said, per Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “Whether I was going to be traded, whether I was going to be released, whether I was going to get the opportunity to be on another team, how I was going to spin this for myself in a positive way.

“So, I kept affirming to myself things are going to change. I had people around me — and I’m grateful for them — affirming that things were going to change. But I never felt like myself throughout the season, because I’m usually sustaining a level of growth throughout the year, instead of trying to catch up with everybody that’s been playing for four or five months. They’ve been at it every day since October or September.”

Irving has an opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent this summer if he turns down his 2022/23 player option, but has indicated he has no plans to leave the Nets.

Let’s round up a few more items from out of the Atlantic…

  • During a discussion on The Athletic NBA Show about what the Sixers‘ roster will look like beyond this season, Sam Amick said he wouldn’t be shocked if James Harden‘s next contract with the team is worth a little less than the max. “When the Sixers got (Harden), their intel was that he would potentially be willing to take less,” Amick said (hat tip to RealGM). “And obviously, you know, nobody knows him better than (Sixers president of basketball operations) Daryl (Morey).”
  • Al Horford‘s $26.5MM salary for 2022/23 is only partially guaranteed for $14.5MM, but that doesn’t mean the Celtics will necessarily part with him this offseason, writes Sean Deveney of Heavy.com. “He has been so valuable to them, the way he has defended, the way he passes, the way he shoots,” a rival executive told Deveney. “He has helped develop Robert Williams, too. He is a leader.” As that exec pointed out, Horford’s partial guarantee would also increase to $19.5MM if Boston makes the NBA Finals, which would affect the team’s decision.
  • ESPN draft analyst Seth Greenberg identifies Baylor forward Jeremy Sochan as a player the Knicks should seriously consider if they’re picking at No. 11 or 12 in this year’s draft, per Marc Berman of The New York Post. Greenberg also singled out Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis as other logical targets for New York.

Sixers Notes: Reed, Heat Series, Harden, Small-Ball Lineups

Young Sixers big man Paul Reed seems enthused for his larger role with the club after serving as the team’s primary backup center behind Joel Embiid during its first round matchup against the Raptors, per Gina Mizell of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The 6’9″ 22-year-old was selected with the No. 58 out of DePaul in 2020.

“I’ve just got to take full advantage of it and make sure that I help the team win any way I can,” Reed said during Philadelphia’s eventual 4-2 defeat of Toronto. “That’s the most important thing for me.”

Reed averaged 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in the Toronto series. In Game 1 against the Heat, an eventual 106-92 loss, Reed played for 13 minutes, scoring four points on 2-of-6 shooting, while pulling down nine rebounds and dishing out four assists. He also recorded a steal and a block.

He’s learning so fast and he’s a hell of a player,” fellow Sixers reserve center DeAndre Jordan, who started for Game 1 ahead of Reed, said. “So we’re going to need that from him, mistakes and all.” 

There’s more out of Philadelphia:

  • Reed expressed confidence that the Sixers can defeat the Heat, regardless of their Game 1 loss in Miami, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Honestly, I think we can definitely beat this team,” Reed said. “We go out there and be more physical than them and play more aggressive. Keep them on their heels. They’re going to fold. We saw that happen in the second quarter and a little bit in the first. I think that’s one thing we realized facing this team.” Reed considers defense the club’s most imperative task in beating the Heat. “The only thing we have to worry about is locking them down every possession and getting out in transition,” he said. “Once we do that, they can’t stop us.” 
  • Considering that MVP finalist Joel Embiid will be sidelined until at least Game 3 with an orbital fracture and concussion, the Sixers clearly need 2018 MVP point guard James Harden to help carry the club’s burden on offense. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN wonders if the veteran All-Star is up to the task at this stage in his career. Shelburne notes that Harden has not scored 25 points or more across 11 straight playoff games, including Game 1. Harden struggled to create space as the focal point of Miami’s defensive attention with his All-Star center counterpart out. “They did a really good job of just boxes and elbows, showing their bodies and crowding the ball when the ball screens came,” Harden said. “But I think the shot-making is what opens up the floor for our entire team.”
  • With Embiid sidelined, the Sixers explored some smaller lineups against the Heat in Game 1, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Head coach Doc Rivers conceded that some small-ball rotations proved more effective than others. “We love Paul [Millsap], but… I don’t love the matchup with Paul and Bam Adebayo,” Rivers said. “We wanted more speed on the floor [than Jordan or Millsap], so we could do more switching. When we go zone and switch, we like Paul Reed on the floor.” Rivers went on to suggest that he likes lineups with Georges Niang or Reed at center surrounded by shooters elsewhere, but that the team struggled to secure rebounds against Miami with those players at center in the second half.