James Harden will never be the answer

James Harden (Jasen Vinlove, Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

The Philadelphia 76ers learned a painful lesson last night after getting eliminated in the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference semi-finals — James Harden won’t get you over the hump.

If we’re being honest, this point has been long proven by now. Philly was in a must-win game last night against the Miami Heat, and they were also home at the Wells Fargo Center. Harden played 43 minutes and only shot the ball 9 times. 7 of those were 3-point attempts. He didn’t attempt a 2-point field goal after the first quarter. He had 0 points in the 4th quarter in the last two games, as well.

It’s always been an effort problem in regards to James Harden. There are times, especially in the playoffs, where he looks straight-up disinterested. Sitting at the 3-point line all game long and hoping that it works out in Game 6 of an NBA playoff series is just not gonna work.

Could that be on coaching? Possibly. But Joel Embiid himself subtly called out Harden after the game: “Ever since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that’s not who he is anymore,” said Embiid. “He’s more of a playmaker. I thought at times, he could’ve been, as all of us, could’ve been more aggressive.”

Embiid isn’t trying to alienate Harden the same way he did with Ben Simmons last season, but he clearly is frustrated with his style of play and lack of playmaking. He tried prefacing it by saying that nobody expected the Houston James Harden, but I think he kind of was expecting that.

I think it’s safe to say that the 76ers organization kind of hoped/assumed that Harden just was angry with his situation in Brooklyn and that he wasn’t trying because of it. They probably thought once he got himself in a “good” situation, he’d get back to form. They would be wrong.

James Harden will show up to play when he feels like it. Skip Bayless said it best: Harden is 32 going on 42. He just looks OLD out there. In fairness to him, he’s got a lot of mileage on him. He’s always made it a point to play the full season up until recently. And he was always making a run in the playoffs.

Sadly, someone will pay Harden like he’s the guy from Houston. It might not be the 76ers, though. Brian Windhorst of ESPN claims that no one in the NBA believes the Sixers are going to be the team to give him a max contract. Perhaps he opts in for his big payday and bets on himself after next season?

It is interesting to think about James Harden having a declining season the same year the NBA changed the foul rules. Players can no longer lean in or kick out their legs when shooting to draw fouls. So much of Harden’s game was based on free throws, and now he’s just not getting to the line as much. Just something to mull over.

The blame of the Sixers isn’t entirely on James Harden, though. GM Daryl Morey has to get some of that blame.

Morey was so set on getting back a superstar for Ben Simmons. There were numerous trades available for the Sixers, but none of them had what he considered a “superstar” so he passed on those trades.

In reality, those trades would’ve been better. It would’ve added so much depth to his team, and he probably wouldn’t have had to throw Seth Curry or Andre Drummond into the deal like what he had to do with the Nets.

Instead, Daryl Morey forced the trade with Brooklyn, and now it has led to yet another 2nd-round exit.

Sixers should just count their losses with Simmons and look at it like they have some freed-up money to help Embiid out.

Whoever gives James Harden a long-term deal — good luck. He will never be the guy. He had the chance to be it at one point in his career, but that time has passed.

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