In part 1 of the mailbag, I addressed some of the general issues facing the Philadelphia 76ers as they enter the offseason.
Today we’ll be discussing more specific scenarios: Which coach would be the best fit for Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid? Which free agents will be available if James Harden leaves? And then there are the sign-and-trade storylines and Tobias Harris’ trade talks.
Thank you all for the questions.
(Note: Questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Who do you think is the best coach to continue Maxey’s development and position Embiid for playoff success? -Dan B.
I will begin by acknowledging that it is impossible to know the answer. We’re just guessing here, as are the decision makers who have a lot more information about the coaching candidates than I do. But it’s silly season, so let’s have fun.
I would be very interested in what Tyrese Maxey could do under the tutelage of Mike D’Antoni. He oversaw two of the most dominant guard stretches of all time (Steve Nash in Phoenix, James Harden in Houston), and while you might not expect this high-level level of excellence from Maxey, D’Antoni could import some of his wisdom on the fourth-year guard. D’Antoni would likely encourage Maxey, one of the league’s best shooters, to haul more 3s. And if Maxey can be a more consistent pick-and-roll playmaker, D’Antoni has the profile to unlock him. Maxey has already developed well under the watchful eye of fellow coach Sam Cassell.
It must be said that Embiid’s post-season problems largely fall on him. He must find a way to avoid the unlucky annual first-round injury and must show up in the most important games. But I like the idea of handyman Nick Nurse helping Embiid in high leverage places. Nurse is a creative and unorthodox thinker who might be able to knock an opponent off the pace during play spurts when Embiid and the Sixers are in trouble.
If Harden leaves, who could be realistic for us to sign with the mid-tier exception? -David S
There are a lot of moving parts here, even after Harden leaves in this hypothetical scenario. What’s going on 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 that they re-sign Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Paul Reed. If Harden leaves and the biggest $12.2 million mid-level exception is the Sixers’ main tool to replace him, they come up against an interesting philosophical question: How much do they care about point guard?
Maxey was the primary ball handler for the first four months of the 2021-22 season as Daryl Morey awaited a trade with Ben Simmons. As an unproven sophomore, Maxey did a great 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 positions, would the Sixers then come out and spend that money on a playmaker or a goaltender to fill some of the playmaking and shooting deficits created by the Harden’s departure? Or would they have Maxey run the show and target a bigger body to make the Sixers a stronger defensive team? Despite all of its positives on offense, Harden and Maxey’s backcourt was flammable at the other end.
The Miami backcourt of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent might be worth a look. On the one hand, it would be funny if the Sixers used the mid-level full exception for the second straight year on a Heat player. Strus would be the highest priority target for my liking due to his ability to shoot screens and guard. He could command more money than $12.2 million a year, but with Miami already having plenty of money 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 also be interested in. Maybe neither player would command the full mid-level exception, but if the Sixers leave Harden, I like having two tough defensemen (De’Anthony Melton is the other) in a three-guard rotation with Maxey.
Creating shots on secondary units can be a bit problematic if those players are signed. Harris and Embiid would be important in these scenarios. And if available at a cheaper price, Seth Curry is someone the Sixers could also look to bring back as a bench option. We know he’s capable of pick-and-rolls with Embiid.
Why would the Rockets commit to a potential signing and trade for Harden if they have so much wiggle room? It appears to be a non-starter. – Rick M.
The Rockets are expected to have about $60 million in cap space this offseason. No matter how crazy Harden’s bidding gets, they don’t need the Sixers’ help to land him. In the scenario where Harden goes to Houston, the Sixers would then have to push the Rockets to turn this trade into a sign and trade. It’s a tough task as the Sixers are lacking in assets to sweeten the pot. It’s unclear what level of assets it would take for Houston to agree to a signing and a trade.
A few years ago, Boston tied up a few second-round picks with Gordon Hayward as he moved to Charlotte. The 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 went that route and signed and traded Harden to the Rockets, the Sixers would likely create a big trade exception. This could allow them to bring in another player in place of Harden.
At his postseason press conference, Morey mentioned getting “creative” if Harden left. Signing and trading is one of the potential options if Houston is ready and the right player is available. But to answer your original question, the Sixers should make this deal worth it for Houston.
What is Harris’ business value now that he’s on an expiring contract? Is it small enough to give us a better player with a bad contract but with 2-3 years to play? —Ian G.
Business value is always a fluid concept. Still, I believe Harris is more marketable 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 goes back on a multi-year contract and the Sixers trade Harris for a player signed for more than one season, they will review the following contracts on their books for the 2024-25 season: Embiid’s supermax, Harden’s new contract , Maxey’s extension, then the player who replaces Harris’ salary slot. Four massive deals would likely be a no-start, especially with the new CBA and restrictive “second apron” rule taking effect.
If Harden walks, maybe such a move becomes more palatable. The Sixers would also weigh the ability to create cap space in the 2024 offseason against what a Harris trade could bring them both next season and in the future. Without Harden in the lineup, Harris can increase his role on offense like he did when the Sixers were shorthanded last season. Harris’ performance in Game 4 in Brooklyn certainly wouldn’t be the norm, but it wasn’t unexpected either.
Now that Harris is on an expiring contract, there’s a chance the Sixers could flip him for a different, slightly better player. But even if that’s the case, a trade has to be part of the Sixers’ financial plans for the next few seasons.
(Maxey and Harden photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)