The James Harden era is officially over in Philadelphia, but the real question is what's next? Embiid is playing at an MVP level and they just traded away their second-best player.
Tyrese Maxey's Emergence
Tyrese Maxey's breakout year may be a reason the 76ers were willing to budge at giving up James Harden so early. So far into the year, Tyrese Maxey has averaged 27 points on 49% from the field and 50% from three. Maxey has been playing lights out so far and his ceiling is extremely high with James Harden being traded.
Maxey isn't the facilitator Harden is but provides lots of shot creation and energy. Maxey's breakout year is providing Joel Embiid with the secondary scoring punch every MVP needs. Maxey is giving the 76ers great value and is likely playing himself into a long, lucrative contract extension.
76er's Lose A Pure Distributor
While Harden was starting to regress from what he used to be, he still provided key distribution and offensive facilitation. Harden was averaging 11 assists per game and was a key part of Joel Embiid's success. Harden's ability to produce in the pick and roll set up Embiid with favorable matchups and shot opportunities. While Maxey has been filling Harden's role, Joel Embiid will get fewer quality shot opportunities
Harden is also a key distributor that unlocks surrounding role players. This may not be an issue in the short-term, but during an 82-game season a player who can make everyone else's life easier by getting them clean looks will be missed.
Bridge Year Regardless?
The 76ers have been playing great basketball this year. Nick Nurse has a great handle on this team and they look extremely organized. The offense is flowing very well with Embiid playing at an MVP level, Maxey breakout, and Harris having a consistent impact as well. However, it can be argued this year was going to be a bridge year for Philly.
With James Harden, most people still did not expect the 76ers to make the finals. With Boston and Milwaukee both ahead roster, this was likely going to be a bridge year. Trading Harden does not change that. The 76ers have a good chance to be a top-four seed and make the semis, but a championship does not seem very realistic barring a big trade.
However, Philly has cleared out the cap room and received assets for Harden. In the off-season or before the deadline they have allowed themself to pursue a star like Zach Lavine, or another one who could become available. This trade was good for Philly in the sense of moving on from a dramatic player, but how they will rebound remains to be seen.
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