It’s almost the end of June, and we have some clarity on what the Sixers will actually do in the offseason.
We heard President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey say at the end of the season that the re-signing of James Harden, who is expected to opt out any day now, is “Scenario A” for the team’s offseason plan.
When it comes to “Scenario B,” we don’t know much — but we have a pretty good idea what the Sixers do not want to do.
So what is the best course of action? Does Harden give them their best shot at a title? What is the contingency plan if Harden is not back? Will they move Tobias Harris’ expiring contract? Is a “gap year” on the table?
Let’s dive in.
Re-signing Harden Is ‘Scenario A’ – Should It Be?
There are many fans who fall under the category Under no circumstances does James Harden re-sign! A few of these folks contribute to Liberty Ballers.
It’s fair. Harden has only made it past the second round once in the last 11 years. The last time he reached the conference finals was in 2018. His performances in Games 6 and 7 against the Celtics left the taste of a vinegar-flavored Sour Patch Kid in the mouths of Sixers fans.
With all that said, he is the best option for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to compete for a title in 2023-24.
And the Sixers’ continued priority is to bring Harden back. The team is looking to do so on a contract that adequately compensates Harden but doesn’t hurt their flexibility going forward, according to a league source.
As the offseason drags on and the rumors continue to fly, it feels less and less likely that Harden will receive a max contract offer — from the Sixers or Rockets. What many painted as almost a done deal with The Beard returning to Houston seems far from it now.
If the Sixers are able to re-sign Harden to a contract similar to what he signed last offseason (perhaps more like two years and an option in the $35 million AAV range), that could potentially give them wiggle room to make other moves. If they can move Harris’ expiring contract (more on that later), they could potentially access the mid-level non-taxpayer exception (around $12.2M). Even with Harden back and Harris back, they could access the Taxpayer MLE (about $5M). The caveat is that we don’t know which of Paul Reed, Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Shake Milton (listed in order of likelihood to return) will be back and how any of their deals will gaze.
While it piques our curiosity to imagine what Morey’s pivot would entail, re-signing Harden — who, however, dropped two plus-40-point games against Boston and had the Sixers five minutes away from the ECF in match 6. .
What is ‘Scenario B’?
If the Sixers are unable to keep Harden, we’ve heard multiple reports that Daryl Morey could have a trick or two up his sleeve. We also know, according to reports, that those tricks wouldn’t involve Bradley Beal, who is now Phoenix-bound, or Fred VanVleet, who might just stay in Toronto.
The idea of a “gap year” certainly won’t appease the reigning MVP, who turns 30 this season. Being open to the idea of trading for Beal or doing a sign-and-trade for VanVleet using Harris’ contract seemed worthwhile. Beal is a player Embiid seems to want to play with. VanVleet can help the nurse usher in his arrangements and culture.
But there are major financial risks associated with both actors. Beal is in the second year of a five-year, $251 million extension. He also holds the only complete no-trade clause in the entire NBA. If it didn’t work out in Philly, moving Beal would have proven extremely difficult. As for VanVleet, he recently opted out of a $22.8 million player option. You have to imagine his next deal would likely be something in the four-year, $120 million range. Both players will soon turn 30, and both come with injury problems.
All this to say, we have no idea what the hell “Scenario B” would entail, but it sure sounds like the Sixers would be betting on Maxey for upside and flexibility next offseason rather than some of the ideas is thrown out there.
Maxey’s role and how the Sixers see him
Maxey, who is eligible for an extension on July 1, is heading into a pivotal season. If Harden doesn’t return and the Sixers don’t make a move for a veteran point guard, Maxey is headed for a potentially career-changing season.
Around this time last year, a source told Liberty Ballers that the Sixers view Maxey as a franchise cornerstone. A league source echoed that sentiment this offseason. The team believes Maxey has All-Star potential. If Harden isn’t back, they really believe the 22-year-old will rise to that level in his fourth NBA season.
The biggest thing the Sixers would miss with Harden gone and Maxey taking the reins is playmaking. The Beard led the league in assists last season and is one of the best playmakers in the NBA. Maxey has seen growth in that area but still has a long way to go if he hopes to lead the charge of a title contender.
It was a focal point for the nurse at his initial press releases when asked about Maxey and areas for improvement.
“There are some details, I would say … to be more of a creator,” said Nurse. “Well, what is creating? Creating is that you score, or you draw more people than one, and then you create for others. So can he make all the reads? I think that’s the first place, I would start offensively is to get him more reps in the pick-and-roll so he can read to all the other players on the floor depending on what he sees.”
We all know Maxey has a lethal combination of lightning quickness and elite shooting that he uses to score in droves. What Nurse and the Sixers would need is for Maxey to use those attributes to make his teammates better. Regardless of Harden’s return, it’s nice to hear that Nurse will put Maxey in more pick-and-rolls, allowing him and the team to take chunks for a potential bigger gain down the road.
One thing is for sure: Maxey will work on it. He will have great resources to do so with nursing and assistant coaches Bobby Jackson, a longtime NBA guard, and Rico Hines, considered an excellent developmental coach.
If Maxey is able to put it all together, the gamble of giving him the keys and not finding a Harden replacement would look like a masterpiece. If it turns out to be more of a “gap year,” next offseason could be hairy … unless Morey can use the aforementioned flexibility to shake things up. I will say that Maxey definitely feels like a player worth betting on.
Moving Harris’ expiring(!) contract
Hard to believe it’s been four years since the Sixers signed Harris to a near-max deal and let Jimmy Butler go in a sign-and-trade. In that time, Butler and the Heat have reached the Finals twice and have three ECF appearances.
The Sixers … well … you know.
But Harris’ deal has now reached expiration status. It always seemed more mobile once it got to that area. With the new CBA in place, we’ve reached a point where Harris’ contract may actually be a positive trade asset, as our Bryan Toporek outlined.
What a time to be alive!
Nothing is imminent for Harris and the chances of him moving ahead of the draft are low, according to a league source. Apparently, the Sixers share the view that Harris should be viewed as a positive asset and will only look to move the veteran forward in a deal that makes sense for them.
So I’m not going to sit here and suggest a bunch of bogus trades (although admittedly I’m having as much fun as anyone throwing them in Fan sp), but we can look at the league landscape and see what could potentially be available.
What seems obvious is that the Sixers won’t move Harris for a star — at least not anyone currently on the market. So what can you get that would help the Sixers? Let’s dive into some of the shield.
Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports mentioned on the latest No Cap Space podcast that the Pacers are looking for a veteran power forward. (You should listen to the entire pod with Dan Devine, but our Dave Early also did a great job analyzing the slop nuggets). Harris certainly fits the bill. Indiana has plenty of cap space to work with. The Pacers could look at it as a one-season trial before perhaps offering Tobias a smaller contract while retaining his Bird rights next season. Buddy Hield is a player you have to imagine the Sixers would have interest in. A guy who actively chases 10 threes a game could do wonders for Embiid and the half-court offense.
The Hawks will likely prioritize moving away from multi-year contracts given their current cap sheet. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who still has four years left on his current deal) could be an intriguing matchup for the Sixers. So could Friends’ Central alum DeAndre Hunter, but the price tag may be higher. To a lesser extent, Dejounte Murray on an expiring deal might make sense to pair with Maxey if Harden leaves.
The Nets are confident they can re-sign forward Cameron Johnson, per veteran reporter Marc Stein’s Substack newsletter. To do that and make other moves, the Nets would have to move money. Stein mentions Dorian Finney-Smith as a trade candidate. Finney-Smith, who came over in the Kyrie Irving trade, could be very appealing to the Sixers. He offers size and defensive versatility. He had a down season last year while dealing with a wrist injury, but hit 38.9 percent of his threes the previous three seasons in Dallas.
Plus, the Sixers could look to pounce on any potential fallout from the Beal trade — or maybe even a Zion Williamson trade.
Harris could be a good trade chip to have and Morey is an aggressive leader. The Sixers don’t have a ton of assets or ways to reshape the roster. This could be the best way.