76ers' 2022 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NBA Playoff Loss
The Philadelphia 76ers' midseason gambit didn't pay off in the short term, and now the question becomes how much they are willing to get in the long term on the partnership of Joel Embiid and James Harden.
One justification for acquiring Harden ahead of the trade deadline instead of waiting to swing a sign-and-trade in the offseason was that the 10-time All-Star might strengthen Philly's championship odds.
Instead, the 76ers went out in the second round to the Miami Heat. Between the Harden trade and Embiid putting together an MVP-caliber season, it's a disappointing outcome.
Now, the challenge for president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand will be finding ways to improve the roster with limited assets.
Here's a look ahead to the Sixers' offseason.
Unrestricted Free Agents
James Harden ($47.4 million player option)
Shake Milton ($2 million club option)
Restricted Free Agents
ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported in April the Sixers had an agreement in place with Harden for him to trigger his $47.4 million player option for 2022-23 immediately after his trade from the Brooklyn Nets. However, that deadline came and passed without the 32-year-old committing.
Windhorst added that the 76ers "implied that they were going to offer him the big number" before the swap was finalized.
It seems almost implausible that Philadelphia would decide to let the southpaw leave already and effectively have nothing to show for jettisoning Ben Simmons.
But Harden's performance in the second half of the season didn't provide a lot of assurances considering the massive scale ($223 million over four years) of what his next contract could be.
In 21 regular-season games with Philly, he averaged 21.0 points, 10.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds. His shooting (40.2 percent overall and 32.6 percent on three-pointers) was one cause for concern, and he generally lacked the kind of explosion off the dribble that made him so difficult to guard during his best years with the Houston Rockets.
In the postseason, Harden flamed out in epic fashion with a dud in Game 6 after flashing some vintage scoring back in Game 4.
The Sixers are pot-committed at this point, so a max deal might be a mere formality. Morey made his bed and now he has to sleep in it.
Much like how swapping Chris Paul with Russell Westbrook accelerated the closure of the Rockets' championship window, the Harden deal could be a catastrophe for Philadelphia if his slight decline in 2021-22 is indicative of what's to come.
Assuming Harden picks up his player option, the 76ers will have a little more than $118.6 million committed to three players for 2022-23.
Philadelphia has the $6.3 million taxpayer mid-level exception and a trade exception that totals almost $1.7 million. Those levers aside, the front office doesn't have much flexibility to make outside additions. Morey and Brand will count on some veterans taking the minimum in order to fill out the roster.
As a team, the Sixers were 22nd in made threes (11.6 per game) and 29th in rebounds (42.3). They could use a backup guard who can space the floor and a backup big to ease some of the pressure on Embiid.
Dennis Schroder isn't a great shooter (33.8 percent career clip on threes), but he'll be available. Bryn Forbes might be a more natural fit given how much he's used to playing off the ball.
JaVale McGee, Hassan Whiteside, Isaiah Hartenstein and Thomas Bryant are among the bigs set to hit free agency who are within Philly's price range.
The biggest wild card is whether Morey can swing a sign-and-trade involving Tobias Harris, whose $37.6 million salary would go a long way toward accommodating a third star alongside Harden and Embiid.
The 28-year-old has a $36.4 million player option for next year, so it's not a question of whether the Sixers can make the money work in a Harris sign-and-trade. The issue will be how much more to send to the Wizards for Beal because Harris is a net-negative asset. Would Morey be willing to part with Matisse Thybulle or Tyrese Maxey?
Maxey might be untouchable after averaging 17.5 points and 4.3 assists in his second season. Parting with Thybulle would be a little more palatable, though it would remove the team's best perimeter defender from the equation.
The 2022 NBA draft might be an anticlimactic affair for Sixers fans. As things stand, the team is without a single pick.
Philadelphia sent its 2022 first-rounder to the Nets in the Harden trade, though Brooklyn can defer and take the 76ers' 2023 first-rounder instead. What would've originally been the Sixers' 2022 second-rounder wound its way to the Miami Heat and was forfeited by them following the Kyle Lowry tampering investigation.
Morey may not be all that heartbroken because a player who's selected in the back half of the first round is unlikely to immediately contribute to a team with championship aspirations. Jaden Springer, who was selected by the 76ers with the No. 28 pick in 2021, played a total of six NBA minutes as a rookie.