With the Sixers leading the Brooklyn series and a second-round meeting against Boston approaching, ESPN sources predicted huge changes for Philadelphia if they struck the second-round wall again.
The Sixers are cruising through their playoff series after having their best standard season in 20+ years, and Joel Embiid is expected to be named league MVP in the coming weeks. What a fantastic moment for some new free agency rumours to surface.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Frankel checked in on a number of postseason matchups and themes on the latest episode of the Woj Pod, concluding with some talk about the upcoming Sixers-Celtics showdown. More specifically, the two senior writers examined the approaching stakes of round 2 for Philadelphia, as well as the repercussions of an early loss for the organisation.
Here’s the excerpt that’s causing a stir on Twitter today:
But what about Philly? If they don’t, there will be change; if they do, there may be change; and James Harden’s future in Philadelphia is very uncertain. Houston is a strong contender for him, and I believe a lot will rely on if they make a run and win, making it simple to pay him long-term large money. Or he just wants to be returned to Houston and will go win or lose, or it will be contingent on the team’s success, but it will seem different.
It should be noted that this is not the only thing the two mentioned about the scenario or the stakes in these playoffs – the overriding message being that the Sixers are under a lot of pressure throughout this run, as an early departure may entail big upheaval in Philadelphia. And that isn’t really debatable at this time. They will not be favoured in round 2 over the Celtics, barring a stunning turn of events, but that is irrelevant. Hitting the same second-round wall is not an acceptable conclusion, and if they get stuck there, Harden’s future is the most obvious pressure point.
The outcome of this postseason run, being in the James Harden business
This is true on both sides of the relationship. On the team side, a second-round departure with Harden underperforming in a primetime game would require some awkward questions about what his value is now, next year, and over the course of what would undoubtedly be a long contract. Whatever the outcome of this postseason run, being in the Harden business will be costly, and while everyone has proclaimed how excited they are about this partnership thus far, nothing puts that claim to the test like playoff outcomes. Everything has been leading up to this run and this moment.
Looking at it through a Harden-centric prism, it’s easy to conclude that defecting to Houston would render his statements about wanting to win null and worthless. But you have to wonder if Harden would be ridiculous to consider leaving a club that (theoretically) still couldn’t clear the second round after years of trying, despite making massive adjustments to seek that goal. Giannis Anteokounmpo will remain in his prime for some time. The Celtics’ core players are younger than those of the 76ers. If you ask me, I believe that being “the president” in Houston is avoiding a worthwhile struggle, though I can see how someone could convince oneself otherwise.
There’s also the possibility that the Sixers win large and everyone’s flowchart becomes lot cleaner as a result. Perhaps Embiid’s MVP moment will lead to his elevation to the league’s clear top player. Maybe Harden notices it and holds on for as long as he can. Woj, Shelburne, and company aren’t making stuff up, but we’re all working with inadequate information since the team’s postseason path is the single most crucial aspect in what occurs this summer.
To be honest, I don’t think anyone on the Sixers (or even James Harden) is thinking about this right now. The importance of this season has been obvious to the key parties all year, and the worry of losing top players is a constant in today’s NBA. It’s a world where players sign extensions just to turn around and demand trades, where stars may gather in a tunnel over All-Star weekend and plot out their free agency plans only to deny it in public.
I’m sure a lot of folks are hearing or reading this and complaining that it’s a storyline on the day of a Sixers playoff game. Try not to worry about it, no matter how absurd it may appear. What matters now for Philadelphia is that they have two stars who offer them a solid opportunity to win a championship this season (even if their most likely outcome is a loss to Boston in round two).
With the way the league has shifted, it’s difficult to hope for or anticipate anything more. Enjoy the games and the ride while they last.