Joel Embiid: 'Everybody Expected the Houston James Harden...That's Not Who He Is'

Erin WalshMay 13, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 12: Joel Embiid #21 and James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers during play against the Miami Heat in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals at Wells Fargo Center on May 12, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated from the 2022 NBA playoffs with a 99-90 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of their second-round series on Thursday at Wells Fargo Center, and James Harden is taking the brunt of the criticism. 

Harden finished Game 6 with just 11 points, four rebounds and nine assists in what was one of his worst postseason performances of recent memory. That said, Joel Embiid mentioned after the game that the three-time scoring champion isn't the same scoring-dominant player he was while he was with the Houston Rockets. 

"Obviously, I'm sure since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that's not who he is anymore," Embiid told reporters. "He's more of a playmaker. I thought, at times, as with all of us, could've been more aggressive."

In 21 regular-season games with the 76ers, Harden averaged 21 points, 7.1 rebounds and 10.5 assists. Entering Thursday's Game 6, he was averaging 19.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists in this year's playoffs. 

The Sixers acquired Harden from the Brooklyn Nets at the trade deadline. To Embiid's credit, the 32-year-old wasn't nearly as dominant in the scoring department during his tenure in Brooklyn either. 

In parts of two seasons with the Nets, Harden averaged 23.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. 

All of these numbers are far from what he averaged in Houston from 2012-20. In 621 career games with the Rockets, he averaged 29.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game.

That said, he was tasked with being the team's main scorer for nearly his entire career in Houston. That wasn't the case in Brooklyn, where he was paired with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and hasn't been the case in Philadelphia, where he has played with Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. 

Regardless, his lack of production has resulted in questions about his future in Philadelphia. The 10-time All-Star is eligible to sign a five-year, $270 million max deal with the 76ers this summer, but some don't believe he deserves that kind of money. 

Even if he doesn't work out an extension, Harden can opt-in to his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season to remain in Philadelphia. When asked if he would opt-in, he told reporters, "I'll be here."

In that case, he'd have some time to build up his stock before potentially signing a max deal as a free agent. However, The Athletic's Sam Amick reported earlier this month that the Sixers were under the impression Harden would be willing to take a pay cut to remain with the team.

So, at this point, there's really no telling what the Harden saga will bring moving forward. As members of the Sixers organization continue to speak with the media in the days following the team's playoff elimination, we could learn more about his future in Philly.