Another disappointing second-round exit for the 76ers means another summer of uncertainty in Philadelphia. After again failing to reach their own stated goal of winning a championship with a roster constructed to maximize the moment, the Sixers enter the offseason facing a plethora of important questions.
How those questions are answered will go a long way toward shaping the future of the franchise. Here’s a look at four of the most pressing questions facing Philly.
1. Who will be the next head coach?
One of the most pressing questions facing the Sixers this offseason is who their next head coach is going to be. Philadelphia parted ways with Doc Rivers after three seasons, and the team is now searching for his replacement. Rivers was fired because he was unable to lead the Sixers past the conference semifinals, so whoever takes his spot will be facing immense pressure to do just that. The new coach will also be tasked with maximizing Joel Embiid in the postseason, as the NBA MVP has been unable to lead his team on a deep playoff run under his two previous head coaches.
There are several viable options available right now, which Sixers president of basketball operations Morey acknowledged was at least part of the reason that the decision was made to move on from Rivers. Several coaches currently on the market have recent championship experience, and that could be beneficial for a Sixers squad struggling to get over the second-round hump.
Morey said that several coaches have already reached out to the Sixers about the job — a gig that he feels should be extremely attractive due to the caliber of the roster in place.
“There’s like 26 teams that would rather have our roster,” Morey said. “We’re starting with the MVP of the league. The draft lottery (Tuesday) was hoping to get a top pick to hope that player becomes as good as the MVP of the league. We’re starting in a great spot.”
Since the Sixers are a team with championship expectations, it seems somewhat unlikely that they’ll go with an unproven or rookie coach. A more established coach with ample postseason experience is probably the direction that they’ll go in. Either way, the Sixers plan to take their time when it comes to naming a Rivers replacement.
“We’re taking a careful process with the coach,” Morey said of the situation. “We do not think it will move quickly. We have to be careful with the process word but it is true.”
2. Will James Harden be back with the team?
Unsurprisingly, James Harden reportedly plans to turn down his player option for next season and pursue a new long-term deal in free agency. There are reports that Harden plans to return to Houston, but the Sixers are also interested in trying to re-sign the former MVP.
“We can’t have those discussions yet, but we are interested in bringing him back,” Daryl Morey said of Harden.
The Sixers are in a tough spot with Harden, who is fresh off another playoff flameout. Signing him to a long-term, big-money deal could be a mistake, as he has already lost a step, and he has yet to show that he can get it done when it matters most. But he was solid for the Sixers as a primary facilitator throughout the season, and the team would have a tough time replacing his production if he were to sign elsewhere. With the reigning MVP on the roster, you want to do everything you can to maximize the team around him, and losing Harden for nothing would be a blow, especially after the team gave up a lot to acquire him last year.
A year ago when Harden took a pay cut in order to help the Sixers build out the roster and signed a two-year deal with a player option, we knew we were going to be here, and now here we are. It will be interesting to see exactly how Harden’s free agency shakes out as it will have a massive impact on the Sixers regardless of what he decides to do.
Since it was signed in 2019, Tobias Harris’ contract has been an unmovable albatross for Philadelphia due to its sheer size and length (five years, $180 million). Harris is a productive player and a good guy to have in a locker room, but he has been overpaid since the second he put pen to paper on that contract, and his deal has taken up a huge chuck of the team’s payroll that could have been allocated elsewhere. This offseason though, Harris’ contract finally becomes trade-able as an expiring deal.
Teams can now trade for Harris for just next season with no long-term commitment attached. Doing so would work to open salary cap space for the team that trades for him next offseason. Harris has been mentioned in trade rumors throughout his time with the Sixers, but nothing has ever materialized. After yet another disappointing second-round exit, perhaps the time has finally come that the Sixers move on from the veteran forward. Given the team’s lack of other assets and cap space, trading Harris could be one of the few ways that the Sixers could significantly shake things up this offseason.
4. Which of the pending free agents will be back?
In addition to Harden, the Sixers have several other players set for free agency this offseason. Georges Niang, Shake Milton and Jalen McDaniels will be unrestricted free agents, while Paul Reed will be a restricted free agent, which means that the Sixers will get an opportunity to match any outside offers for the backup big man. Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell also both have player options for next season that they could decline in favor of unrestricted free agency.
It will be interesting to see how many, if any, of those pending free agents will be back in Philadelphia. Outside of Reed, who established himself as the second-string center later in the season, and Niang, none of those players really had solid, consistent roles with the Sixers this past season, which makes them all seem somewhat replaceable. As always, the market will dictate some of the decision-making, but it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see the Sixers move on from a lot of these guys.