In Part 1 of the mailbag, I tackled some of the big-picture questions facing the Philadelphia 76ers as they enter the offseason.
Today, we will get into more specific scenarios: What coach would be best for Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid? What free agents are available if James Harden leaves? And then there are sign-and-trade scenarios and Tobias Harris trade talk.
Thank you, everyone, for the questions.
(Note: Questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Who do you believe is the best coach to further the development of Maxey and put Embiid in a spot to succeed in the postseason? — Dan B.
I’ll start by acknowledging that it’s impossible to know the answer. We’re all just guessing here, as are the decision-makers who have much more information about the coaching candidates than I do. But it’s silly season, so let’s have some fun.
I would be very interested in what Tyrese Maxey could do under Mike D’Antoni’s tutelage. He oversaw two of the most dominant guard stretches ever (Steve Nash in Phoenix, James Harden in Houston), and while you might not expect that level of top-tier excellence from Maxey, D’Antoni could import some of his wisdom onto the fourth-year guard. D’Antoni would likely encourage Maxey, one of the best shooters in the league, to hoist more 3s. And if Maxey can be a more consistent pick-and-roll playmaker, D’Antoni has the profile to unlock it. Maxey has already developed well under the watchful eye of Sam Cassell, another coaching candidate.
It needs to be said that Embiid’s postseason issues fall largely on him. He has to find a way to avoid the unlucky annual first-round injury and needs to show up in the most important games. But I like the idea of tinkerer Nick Nurse aiding Embiid in high-leverage spots. Nurse is a creative, unorthodox thinker who might be able to throw an opponent off their rhythm during the spurts of the game when Embiid and the Sixers are struggling.
If Harden leaves, who might be realistically available for us to sign with the midlevel exception? — David S.
There are a lot of moving parts here, even after Harden leaves in this hypothetical scenario. What happens with the Sixers’ other free agents? Is there a Harden sign-and-trade that would interest both the Sixers and presumably Houston? And do the Sixers potentially find a trade for Harris?
Let’s say the Sixers don’t get too crazy and keep Harris for the 2023-24 season. Let’s also say they re-sign Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Paul Reed. If Harden leaves and the bigger $12.2 million midlevel exception is the Sixers’ main tool to replace him, they run into an interesting philosophical question: How much do they care about the point-guard position?
Maxey was the lead ballhandler for the first four months of the 2021-22 season as Daryl Morey waited for a Ben Simmons trade. As an unproven second-year player, Maxey did an excellent job. But even with two more years of experience under his belt, Maxey’s floor vision is a massive downgrade from Harden’s.
With Maxey penciled into one of the guard spots, would the Sixers then go out and spend that money on a point guard or scoring guard to make up some of the playmaking and shot-creation deficits created by Harden’s departure? Or would they entrust Maxey to run the show and target a bigger body to make the Sixers a sturdier defensive team? For all its positives on offense, the Harden and Maxey backcourt was flammable on the other end.
Miami’s backcourt of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent could be worth a look. For one thing, it would be funny if the Sixers used the full midlevel exception for the second straight year on a Heat player. Strus would be the higher priority target for my taste due to his ability to shoot off screens and guard. He might command more money than $12.2 million per year, but with Miami having a lot of money already committed for next season, it might not hurt to offer it.
If the Sixers decide to go the “bigger body” route, Donte DiVincenzo and Bruce Brown are players I would have some interest in as well. Perhaps neither player would command the full midlevel exception, but if the Sixers do move on from Harden, I like having two rugged defenders (De’Anthony Melton is the other one) in a three-guard rotation with Maxey.
Shot creation on secondary units might be a bit of an issue if those players are signed. Harris and Embiid would be important in those scenarios. And if he’s gettable at a cheaper price, Seth Curry is someone who the Sixers also could look to bring back as a bench option. We know he’s capable of running pick-and-rolls with Embiid.
Why would the Rockets engage in a potential sign-and-trade for Harden if they have so much cap room? That seems like a non-starter. — Rick M.
The Rockets are projected to have around $60 million in cap space this offseason. No matter how crazy the Harden bidding gets, they don’t need the Sixers’ help to land him. In the scenario that Harden goes to Houston, the Sixers would then have to entice the Rockets to turn that transaction into a sign-and-trade. That is a difficult task since the Sixers are low on assets to sweeten the pot. It’s unclear what level of asset it would take for Houston to agree to a sign-and-trade.
A few years ago, Boston attached a couple of second-round picks with Gordon Hayward as he moved on to Charlotte. That move created a $28.5 million trade exception for the Celtics.
The other question in this scenario is what the Sixers want in return. If they did go this route and did do a sign-and-trade with Harden to the Rockets, the Sixers would likely be creating a large trade exception. That could allow them to bring in another player in Harden’s place.
At his postseason news conference, Morey did mention getting “creative” if Harden left. The sign-and-trade is one of the potential options if Houston is amenable and the right player is gettable. But to answer your original question, the Sixers would have to make that deal worth it to Houston.
What is Harris’ trade value now that he is on an expiring contract? Is it small enough to get us a better player with a bad contract but with 2-3 years left? — Ian G.
Trade value is always a fluid concept. Still, I believe that Harris is more tradeable now than ever. At least since he signed the five-year, $180 million deal in 2019.
In Harris’ case, the Sixers’ priorities elsewhere could determine what happens with him. If Harden does return on a multi-year deal and the Sixers trade Harris for a player signed for more than one season, they would be looking at the following deals on their books for the 2024-25 season: Embiid’s supermax, Harden’s new contract, Maxey’s extension and then the player who replaces Harris’ salary slot. Four massive deals would likely be a non-starter, especially with the new CBA and the restrictive “Second Apron” rule kicking in.
If Harden walks, perhaps such a move becomes more palatable. The Sixers also would be weighing the ability to create cap space in the 2024 offseason against what a Harris trade could net them both next season and moving forward. With no Harden in the lineup, Harris can increase his role in the offense like he did when the Sixers were short-handed this past season. Harris’ Game 4 performance in Brooklyn certainly wouldn’t be the norm, but it wasn’t unexpected either.
Now that Harris is on an expiring contract, there is a chance the Sixers could flip him for a different, slightly better player. But even if that is the case, a trade has to fit into the Sixers’ financial plans for the next few seasons.
(Photo of Maxey and Harden: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)