Sixers are the real losers in the trade bust between James Harden and Ben Simmons

In February, the question was who won the trade between James Harden and Ben Simmons.

Now it’s about who lost it worse.

And right now Philadelphia has a Harden problem.

The former MVP passive-aggressively fought his way from the Nets to the Sixers in February. But Harden’s season-ending performance on Thursday was so lazy that people in the NBA are saying his time as a worthy supermax player won’t end during a possible overtime. It is already over.

What begins now is his time as a problem, with the Sixers faced with a choice of paying him a potentially crippling max deal or letting him walk.

Oh, the choice is yours. And they are all bad.

“I can’t commit to that if I’m the owner of the Sixers,” said former Nets development coach Amar’e Stoudemire, who watched Harden for 1 1/2 seasons before Game 6. “I just don’t see the dedication I need to see from a top 75 player. You need to have a certain level of dedication and focus to be the best player you can be and also be there for your teammates when they need you most.

“In game 6 you will need him to play at a high level; and if he’s not able to do that – and as a max player – I’m not willing to give you a max contract right now unless you show me you can handle that situation.”

James Harden only had 11 points for the Sixers on Thursday.
James Harden only had 11 points for the Sixers on Thursday.
NBAE via Getty Images

As so often in elimination games, the situation dealt with him.

Sixers president Daryl Morey – who dated Harden in Houston – shook his hand to try to reunite with his former star. So Nets GM Sean Marks not only traded his dissatisfaction with Philadelphia’s problem, but also extracted a sweetener from Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, two first-rounders and a few trade exceptions.

Brooklyn essentially gave up this year’s title to widen its time window and give itself a longer runway to get out of their mess. On the turnpike, the 76ers used all of their chips to win now, with Joel Embiid having an MVP season. But that ended in a 99-90 Game 6 loss to Miami that may have been the requiem on Harden’s run as a superstar.

Ben Simmons hasn't passed for a single game this season.
Ben Simmons hasn’t passed for a single game this season.
NBAE via Getty Images

The three-time scoring champion had just 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting with nine assists, four boards and four turnovers. After Sixers fans pilloried Simmons for scoring just three points in his last two fourth quarters of the 2021 second-round loss, Harden has remained scoreless in his last two.

“The ball moved and just didn’t come back to me,” Harden said afterwards. When asked if Rivers called plays to bring it to him, Harden snorted, “Next question.”

Here’s the rub: Harden never needed them. He was king of the Iso.

But that was before the hamstring injury he picked up with the Nets last season. Before spending years partying and not taking care of himself, he conspired with injuries to weaken his blast. So Thursday wasn’t a suffocating job; it was far worse for Philadelphia. It was Harden who was no longer able to carry a team.

“I don’t think he is this season,” said Stoudemire. “Because [of] not be in top shape. Don’t take your body seriously.”

As recently as 2019-20, Harden blew past his defender on 44.1 percent of his drives. That fell to 30.3 percent last season and 29.1 percent this season. according to second spectrum.

“Ever since we got him, everyone’s been expecting the Houston James Harden,” Embiid said. “But he’s not anymore.”

So he cannot be paid as is. The networks knew. The 76ers find out.

Harden has a $47 million player option for next season. He could sign a four-year, $223 million extension, or opt out and re-sign a five-year deal for $269.9 million — a contract that was a onerous $61 million last year when he would be 37 dollars would pay.

The 76ers signed Doc Rivers as their coach on Friday morning. Will Harden be with him? When asked if he would sign up Thursday night, Harden said, “I’ll be here.”

But the question is, do the ’76ers even want that? Smart money says no. Sixers are the real losers in the trade bust between James Harden and Ben Simmons


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