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The Sixers Can Win … Even With James Harden

A quick note as we move towards the start of NBA training camps: I’ll be doing a Mailbag here every week, so if you have got questions, send them my way on X or Instagram. Longer ones to Let ‘er rip.

What’s with the Sixers love on the podcast? You really think James Harden is going to be there this season? And you really think they can win with him? -Harold, Newark

First—thanks for listening!

Second, hell yeah I think the Sixers can win. Look at the roster. Joel Embiid, reigning MVP. Tyrese Maxey, fast rising playmaker. Maxey spent the offseason working with noted trainer Drew Hanlen—whose client roster includes Embiid, Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal—who tweeted recently he thinks Maxey can averaged 25 points per game next season. Tobias Harris shot 39% from three and is in a contact year. Patrick Beverley brings some defense and feistiness to the bench. Kelly Oubre, who agreed to a one-year deal on Monday, averaged 20 points per game last season in Charlotte.

Granted, Harden is a wild card. But if he’s on the roster next month—and that’s still a not insignificant if—I believe the Sixers will get the best of him. Harden is 34 and clearly still wants one more big deal. The easiest way to get it is to play at an All-Star level on a winning team. He may not like playing in Philadelphia—or, more specifically, for Daryl Morey—but I don’t see a lot of options for him. He sleepwalks like he did in Houston or mails it in like he appeared to do at the end in Brooklyn, and the market for Harden will crater.

Besides, look at the conference. Milwaukee will be formidable, Boston, too, but are either of those teams significantly better than Philly? The Bucks are little older, the Celtics (I think) are a little worse and unless you believe this is Cleveland’s breakout year it’s hard to slot the Sixers any lower than third right now. It will be uncomfortable with Harden but Philadelphia has experience (see Simmons, Ben) playing in uncomfortable situations. I think it can work, and unless the 76ers can get close to equal value for Harden (narrator: they can’t) I think they should try.

Harden will have to play his best in Philadelphia if he wants another deal.David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

What do you make of the Rockets [reportedly] attempting to trade Kevin Porter Jr.? From a basketball perspective I get it. But it’s morally a little gross, maybe more for a team that trades for him. -Lucas, Minneapolis

It’s not a little gross. It’s very gross.

To recap: Porter Jr., the Rockets fourth-year guard, was arrested in New York last week after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend—former WNBA player Kysre Gondrezick—in a hotel room. According to a criminal complaint, Porter Jr. allegedly repeatedly punched Gondrezick and “forcefully” squeezed her neck with his hands, “causing her to experience difficulty breathing, redness and bruising to her neck, and substantial pain.”

At a press conference last week, Adam Silver called the allegations “horrific.”

Since then, Houston has reportedly been shopping Porter Jr., who will make $15.9 million this season but has only $1 million guaranteed for next season, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, and nothing over the final two years of a carefully constructed multiyear contract. That, effectively, makes Porter Jr. an expiring deal, one that could be valuable to teams looking to cut future costs.

Still, yuck. A team trading for a player who is under investigation for domestic violence will face public backlash. Significant backlash, even if the team immediately cuts him. I just don’t see a team making a deal like that, even if Houston sweetens it with some draft capital. That’s why my guess is the Rockets sit Porter Jr. while the investigation plays out and release him once its finished.

What did you think of the reports that LeBron James is recruiting the top stars to play in Paris in 2024? Will the U.S. send another Dream Team? – Alex, New York

Listen, it’s always great for USA Basketball when the U.S.’s best players want to play. A team led by James, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, et al will enter the Olympics as gold medal favorites. Team USA has never had issues fielding top players for the Olympic cycles. It’s getting American players to care about other tournaments—like the World Cup—that’s problematic.

Talent has never been the U.S.’s issues. The fourth-place team it sent to Manilla was the most talented group there. The seventh-place team it sent to China in ’19 was too. But these teams have no chemistry. No continuity. They are assembled in a matter of months, thrown together for a brief training camp and expected to succeed against teams that have been playing together for much longer.

When Jerry Colangelo, the ex-USA Basketball czar, was recruiting for the 2008 Olympics, he demanded three-year commitments from players, commitments that began at the 2006 World Championships. The result was the ’08 Redeem Team, which knocked off Australia, Argentina and Spain in the knockout rounds to reclaim Olympic gold.

It’s too late for Grant Hill, the new USA Basketball chairman, to get those kind of commitments this cycle. But when he starts recruiting for the ’28 Games—which will be held in Los Angeles—he should demand something similar. The U.S. doesn’t need to send its A-team to win, but it does need one that has not been slapped together on the fly. It needs a group that commits part of each NBA offseason to working together.

Is Malcolm Brogdon at odds with the Boston front office? -@uncle.colly

I wrote about the questions I had about Brogdon’s health in last week’s Mailbag. Brogdon was limited at the end of the conference finals with an arm injury and while he was healthy last season—Brogdon played 67 games, the most since his rookie year—he has a long history of injuries. It’s why Brogdon was available for the small price Boston paid for him.

Last week, Gary Washburn, a veteran Celtics reporter for the Boston Globe, reported that Brodgon was “angry” with the Celtics for attempting to trade him this summer. Brogdon, if you recall, was originally headed to the Clippers in the multi-team deal for Kristaps Porzingis. The Clippers, though, got scared off by Brogdon’s injury, forcing Boston to pivot to Memphis, which wanted Marcus Smart.

There have been rumblings for months that Brogdon was unhappy with the near-trade. Washburn even suggested that Brogdon could have decided against surgery as a form of protest. We’ll find out more in a couple of weeks, but if you’re Boston you need a happy Brogdon, or at least a healthy one. Smart’s exit left the Celtics backcourt painfully thin. Brogdon will be counted on to play big minutes backing up Derrick White. Issues with Brogdon, who has two years and $45 million left on his deal, could be a major problem for Boston. 


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