After another disappointing postseason exit, the Philadelphia 76ers entered the offseason full of uncertainty. As has become customary, the Sixers have a plethora of questions that need to be answered over the summer, and there are very few easy answers. The right decisions could potentially push the Sixers up and over the second round-shaped hill that they’ve been stuck on, but the wrong moves could set the team back big time.
With that said, here’s a look at three of the most pressing questions facing Philadelphia over the offseason.
1. What happens with James Harden?
What they’re going to do regarding James Harden’s future with the franchise is the most pressing question facing the Sixers over the offseason. Harden, 32, has a $47 million player option for next season that he could pick up, and he’s also eligible for a monster max extension this offseason. So, there are a few different ways the situation could go.
The Sixers could sign Harden to an extension, either max or otherwise. Or Harden could opt into the player option for next season, and then worry about a new contract next summer. Lastly, the team could simply walk away from Harden if he turns down the player option, as they don’t have any sort of a long-term commitment to him at this time. That seems very unlikely though. When the Sixers traded for Harden in February, the plan was to keep him in a Sixers uniform long-term, and that hasn’t changed according to Daryl Morey.
“That’s the plan is to have him back. That’s been the plan since the trade,” Morey said of Harden following Philadelphia’s postseason loss to Miami. “Obviously, we have to work with his representation and that’ll be between us to figure out how that works… He’s an incredibly talented player just like Joel [Embiid], just like Tobias [Harris], and I’m excited for Doc [Rivers] and his staff to have a whole offseason, work with the players, and come up with the best plan for the roster.”
Now, the question becomes what kind of financial agreement will Harden and the Sixers come to. The best-case scenario for the Sixers, probably, would be if Harden simply opted into his player option for the ’22-23 season, and delayed a potential extension until next offseason. That way, the Sixers could see how Harden looks physically after an entire offseason of training. After all, Harden was dealing with a hamstring injury last offseason, so he admittedly didn’t get as much of an opportunity to train as he would have liked.
Plus, in that scenario, the Sixers would have a larger sample size to judge how well Harden fits alongside Embiid. If the organization likes what it sees after next season, it could opt to extend Harden at that point. Harden, however, will likely want the added financial security that would come with an extension, so the two sides might eventually end up meeting somewhere in the middle.
What the Sixers ultimately decide to do with Harden will go a long way towards shaping the team next season, and beyond.
2. How much better will Tyrese Maxey get?
In the span of a single season, Tyrese Maxey went from a promising prospect to a core building block for the Sixers. Thanks to increased on-court opportunity due to Ben Simmons‘ holdout from the team, Maxey made a massive leap from his rookie to sophomore season, and his improvement was a revelation of sorts for the Sixers, who now view the springy guard as a foundational piece.
In his second season, Maxey increased his scoring from 8.0 points per game as a rookie to 17.5, and he more than doubled his assists (4.3 per game last season compared to 2.0 during his rookie campaign). Most impressive, however, was the jump he made as a shooter. After shooting just 30 percent from 3-point range as a rookie on 1.7 attempts per game, Maxey connected on 42 percent of his attempts last season while taking 4.1 per game. That mark was good for third in the entire NBA, behind only Luke Kennard and Desmond Bane.
Maxey proved adept at knocking down long-range shots both off of the dribble and in catch-and-shoot scenarios. That type of shooting versatility is valuable in today’s NBA, and especially so alongside a player that draws as much attention as Embiid does.
Maxey’s development was one of the most positive aspects of Philadelphia’s ’21-22 campaign, and a big part of the reason that the team was able to have the [relative] success that it did. His improvement wasn’t a coincidence, as he is an extremely hard worker, as any of his teammates or coaches will quickly tell you.
The question, then, is how much more can Maxey improve from his second to his third season? Given how integral he has become to the Sixers, his continued development, or lack thereof, will have a direct impact on the team’s trajectory. His positive progress is especially important when you consider that the Sixers are limited financially in terms of improving the roster around Embiid. Thus, some improvement is going to have to come internally, and that starts with Maxey. If he can continue to elevate his ceiling as a player, Philadelphia’s ceiling as a team will also rise.
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3. Will Matisse Thybulle get an extension?
Heading into his fourth season in the league, Matisse Thybulle, 25, is eligible for an extension from the Sixers, but will he get one? Thybulle has established himself as one of the league’s better perimeter defenders — he was recently named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team for the second straight season. However, he has shown little offensive development since he was drafted, especially when it comes to spacing the floor with his shot.
As a result, he can become a liability on the offensive end, especially during postseason play. Additionally, his decision not to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 forced him to miss three games against the Raptors in Toronto in the first round. That decision probably didn’t help his standing within the organization.
So, would the Sixers trade him? The vibe I’ve gotten from the organization is that pretty much anything is on the table over the offseason, so while they might not actively be shopping Thybulle, they would certainly entertain offers, at least. The team would have to think twice about a potential deal, though, as Thybulle is the only reliable perimeter defender on their roster as currently constructed.
If the Sixers don’t necessarily want to trade Thybille, but also aren’t ready to commit to him long-term, they could delay an extension and see how the ’22-23 season goes. After that, Thybulle would become a restricted free agent and the Sixers would then have an opportunity to match any outside offers.