The dark cloud hanging over this otherwise fun Sixers season has finally been lifted, with the Brooklyn Nets officially agreeing to send James Harden and Paul Milsap to Philly in exchange for Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, a pair of first round picks, and of course, Ben Simmons.
Equally as important news is James Harden’s decision to exercise his player option for the 2022-23 season. Had he delayed his decision the Sixers would’ve simply had another cloud hanging over their head for the remainder of the year—with Harden locked in for the future the pressure to win this season is lessened, the decision not to add needed role pieces is more palatable, and the fear of losing Simmons & Curry for nothing is essentially wiped away.
If the Sixers weren’t Finals contenders before this deal—they weren’t—they are at least in the conversation now, if not favorites in the wide-open Eastern Conference. Adding one of the most prolific scorers this league has ever seen to form a 1-2 punch with Joel Embiid will keep them in the conversation regardless of the roster around them.
The more relevant question, however, is whether or not this elevates them to the level of Phoenix, Utah, Golden State, Milwaukee, and yes, Brooklyn (if they can avoid the play-in tournament).
For context, the popular assumption is that James Harden was fully prepared to decline his player option with Brooklyn and sign with Philly over the summer had this deal not taken place. With that in mind, it’s fair to wonder if the Sixers would have been better served waiting out this season in the name of retaining Seth Curry (a decent, yet important role player), their first-round pick (which could be used to add a decent role player via trade), and using Simmons trade capital for other valuable pieces.
Those are the circumstances that invite debate over what would otherwise be a clear win for Morey and the Sixers. A roster of Embiid and Harden with Curry still in the fold, another role piece from the first rounder, and the assets that Simmons would have yielded over the summer is an objectively better situation for the future than what they’ll find themselves with now—Morey himself would admit as such.
The counter to that is whether that future value is worth punting on what some will argue could be Joel Embiid’s career best season? Possibly not. The Sixers are much better than they were yesterday, and that alone is enough for the fan base to take solace in. But it’s absolutely worth considering if they would have been better off practicing patience for another few months and letting Harden join them over the summer for free.
If the Sixers win the Finals this season then these considerations will look foolish in hindsight. If they don’t win the Finals this season—or worse, if the Nets win the Finals—this deal will age as premature at best, and an obvious mistake at worst.