In a blink of an eye, Philadelphia’s 2022-2023 season is upon us. Philly’s media day is scheduled for September 26th at their training facility in Camden. After that, Doc Rivers is hosting the team’s training camp in Charleston from September 27th to October 2nd. You may be wondering “why South Carolina?”. Well, Doc’s intentions for the 10-hour road trip are quite wholesome. The goal is to focus on team growth and learn about early African American history. (via Marc J. Spears of ESPN) Before Philly gets a chance to unpack their bags, they have to take a trip to Brooklyn. Philadelphia will face Ben Simmons and the Nets on October 3rd in their first preseason game. Then, before you know it, the Sixers will oppose the Boston Celtics in their season opener on October 18th.
Let’s take a step back (no pun intended), and revisit what the Sixers did over the summer. Over the years, it’s visible that Philadelphia had trouble forming continuity and a winning culture. We’ve seen many variations of lineups such as the half-witted Al Horford experiment, the Jimmy Butler rental, and now the pairing of James Harden and Joel Embiid. If the NBA’s deep-seated history proves anything, it’s that you need culture and continuity to win championships.
Look as far back to the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics to now with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Both of those historic dynasties had players who established triumphant cultures such as the great Bill Russell and Draymond Green. They also had continuity, which is arguably more important.
Continuity is paramount to chemistry and with chemistry comes trust. The same way Horace Grant trusted John Paxson to knock down that three in crunch time against the Phoenix Suns in 1993. That same Bulls dynasty had continuous teams and racked up six championships in a decade. Now, let’s abandon memory lane and refocus on the modern-day Sixers.
The Dawg Mentality
It’s undeniable that Philadelphia immensely lacked continuity and a winning culture. Philly’s series loss against the Miami Heat exposed those weaknesses. The Sixers were without Joel Embiid for two games because of an orbital fracture and concussion he suffered in the first round. Losing your star player in the postseason is a gut-wrenching blow to any team.
But there have been teams who’ve been able to overcome situations like this and fight until the end. The Los Angeles Clippers were practically in the same boat two years ago. Kawhi Leonard suffered an ACL tear against the Utah Jazz in the second round of the 2021 NBA playoffs. Still, Paul George and Ty Lue’s brilliance were able to get them past Utah. Although Phoenix won, the Clippers were able to compete in the Conference Finals.
However, this wasn’t the case for the unmotivated Sixers. After Embiid returned in Game 3, they were able to even up the series two games apiece. James Harden, who was struggling throughout this series, erupted in Game 4. His electrifying 31-point performance rejuvenated the team, or so we thought. Miami demolished the Sixers 120-85 in Game 5. They took a 3-2 lead in the series and had regained their mental edge. The Heat quickly sealed the deal in Game 6 winning 99-90.
This is Nothing New
These past few years, the holes in Philly’s roster were truly unveiled during the playoffs. Let’s glance back at Ben Simmons’ meltdown against the Atlanta Hawks. That catastrophe proved that the Sixers needed a true point guard running their offense. So, what did Morey do? He traded Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden in a blockbuster deal. Seemingly overnight, Philly’s offense centered around pick-and-roll actions with Harden playing point. Nevertheless, adding James wasn’t enough to get the Sixers past the 2nd round. Philly considerably lacked bench depth, shooters, and a dependable backup center. Morey fulfilled the team’s needs with a few timely signings in Philadelphia’s underrated off-season.
De’Anthony Melton Trade
Ever since Daryl Morey transformed the team in the 2020 Draft, Sixers fans have been on their toes. Philly entered the 2022 Draft with the 23rd overall pick. No one knew what Morey would do with the 23rd pick. G-League Ignite guard Jaden Hardy was tied to Philadelphia. On the other hand, Rockets forward Eric Gordon was heavily linked to the Sixers as well. Morey worked hard to acquire the polished two-way forward, even throwing in Matisse Thybulle. Ultimately, talks fell through, and Eric Gordon remains a Houston Rocket heading into training camp.
An hour and a half later, the Sixers were on the clock and Daryl Morey pulled the trigger on a trade. The Sixers sent injured Danny Green and their 23rd pick (David Roddy) to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for guard De’Anthony Melton. (via Shams Charania of The Athletic)
If losing to Miami in Game 6 wasn’t enough, Danny Green suffered a career-threatening injury. Early in 1st quarter, Joel attempted to draw a foul. Instead, he crashed into Green’s leg, sending the veteran to the floor in grimacing pain. Tragically, Green was diagnosed with a torn ACL and LCL. There’s no timetable for his return, but Danny is adamant that he’ll return this season. Green had two quality years with Philly and was a textbook fit with Embiid. It’s unfortunate to see him shipped off to Memphis, but the Sixers got the bigger end of the stick
Get to Know Melton
De’Anthony Melton is a 24-year-old combo guard, who spent three years with the Memphis Grizzlies. Melton is on a two-year deal as he’ll make a team-friendly $8,250,000 this season. Off the bench, he averaged 10.8 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game, and 1.4 steals per game, with a 52.9% true shooting percentage (3.7% below league average).
Melton will provide a vital two-way impact for the Sixers’ bench. He’s a high-flying guard and dangerous in transition. Melton is outstanding off the catch and a capable shot creator, who has a fixation for step-backs. His explosive first step aids him in torching defenders and soaring to the rim. He also operates very well in pick and rolls and can maneuver between screens and knock down awkward floaters.
Defensively, Melton is pesky and always knows where to be. The young guard effortlessly seals off lanes to the basket and picks off passes like an NFL cornerback. Attributes aside, Melton is bound to add more competitiveness to the locker room. Even so, few players in the league rival the intensity of Philly’s newest starting forward.
Someone Like P.J. Tucker
“[P.J. Tucker] believes that no one can beat him. And he’s tough. He’s just physical, and he’s tough. And they have a few of those guys…And since I’ve been here, I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those types of guys. Nothing against what we have, it’s just the truth. We never had P.J. Tucker. That’s really what I’m trying to say. So, I think physicality – especially once you get to the playoffs or the later rounds – you need that. You need those guys that are really tough.”
-Joel Embiid on P.J. Tucker after getting eliminated from the 2022 playoffs
As I mentioned before, the Sixers lacked mental toughness and competitiveness last season. Joel Embiid in so many words affirmed my statement. If the cornerstone of your franchise is speaking that boldly about your team, then it’s crucial to listen. The front office got Embiid’s message loud and clear and started to pursue Tucker almost immediately. Reporters such as Marc Stein and Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer brewed up a storm of rumors. All this did was enable Sixers fans to spam Twitter comment sections with P.J. jersey swaps. To add more fuel to the fire, Tucker opted out of his $7,400,000 player option and became an unrestricted free agent. Morey and company inevitably had some competition in acquiring the adept veteran. Yet, in typical Morey fashion, he swung big and hit a grand slam.
Silver Strikes Back
Less than 10 minutes into the moratorium period, Tucker controversially inked a fully guaranteed three-year deal with Philadelphia worth $33,200,000 (via Shams Charania of The Athletic)
A portion of Sixers fans argued that the 37-year-old was overpaid. However, if Philadelphia didn’t offer him the desired amount of money, someone else would’ve. The fact that Philly, amongst other teams, was willing to pay such a price should say something. The Sixers used up all of their $10,490,000 non-taxpayer mid-level exception to acquire him. Tucker is destined to make that exact amount this season and $11,014,500 the preceding year. In the final year of his contract (2024-2025), he’ll have an $11,539,000 player option.
One month later, an anonymous underprivileged team filed a complaint to the league. Philadelphia was hit with tampering allegations. The NBA is investigating the Tucker, Harden, and House signings as we speak. If Adam Silver convicts Philly, they can be fined and have one of their draft picks taken away. The situation is out of Tucker and Morey’s control, but let’s talk about what the veteran can do.
Beyond The Box Score
Tucker averaged 7.6 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game, with a 59.3 true shooting percentage (2.7% above league average) with the Miami Heat last season,
P.J. could be labeled as one of those players whose impact doesn’t fully manifest on the box score. Offensively, Tucker is a near-perfect fit, especially next to Joel Embiid. With Embiid’s post gravity, it’s essential to have capable corner shooters like Tucker. On top of that, P.J. can play small-ball center as he was a part of that gutsy experiment with the 2019-2020 Houston Rockets. Philly has plenty of options at center and P.J. ‘s versatility will serve them well depending on matchups. The seasoned veteran operates prominently in pick-and-rolls and motion plays. Tucker is known for his instinctive short roll passing, which is a luxury for shooters who operate off the catch.
Defensively, P.J. has quite the skillset. He’s an excellent point-of-attack defender, who can hold his own against guards and clamp up forwards. Tucker can switch onto almost anyone against the pick and roll. Look at his lockdown defense against Trae Young in the 1st round of last year’s playoffs. Also, who could forget the feud he got into with Kevin Durant in the 2021 playoffs? Tucker defends with the utmost amount of grit, the same grit that’ll get you far in the playoffs. After all, he aided the Miami Heat to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
Just watch PJ Tucker guarding Trae Young 1v1. pic.twitter.com/ZIa0ePQ1Yg— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) April 23, 2022
Tobias Harris’ New-ish Role
The only hitch of adding Tucker is Harris being moved back to small forward. The last time Harris played the three, Al Horford was Philly’s starting power forward. Al’s post presence made it difficult for Tobias to create for himself. Horford obliged him into a catch-and-shoot role. However, Tucker is a significantly better floor spacer than Horford was at the time. P.J.’s fierce intangibles matched with his two-way impact will transform Philadelphia’s culture. But he’s not the only former Houston Rocket Daryl Morey added to the mix.
House Found a Home
The Sixers had plenty of flexibility heading into free agency. Morey had the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception worth $4,105,000. For that kind of money, Philadelphia could acquire a quality role player such as another wing or a backup center.
The front office decided to go the wing route and wisely used their bi-annual exception. Danuel House Jr. penciled in a two-year deal worth approximately $8,400,000. (via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN) House is set to make $4,105,000 this season and he’ll have a $4,310,250 player option in next year’s free agency.
Get to Know House
House averaged 6.8 points per game, shot 41.5% from beyond the arc on 3.3 attempts per game, and possessed a 61.0 true shooting percentage (4.4% above league average) with the Utah Jazz last year.
The addition of House adds the required depth to the wing position. If there’s one thing Philly’s bench has always lacked, it’s two-way wings. Whether it was Thybulle’s inconsistent shooting or Korkmaz’s traffic cone-like defense. Nonetheless, House offers faithful perimeter shooting and solid point-of-attack defense. Having a guy you can kick it to off of dribble penetration will do wonders. With the chaotic amount of pressure Harden, Maxey, and Embiid put on the rim, House’s shooting will be lucrative.
The former Rocket will have a secure spot in Doc’s rotation. Except, where does that leave Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton? In all likelihood, the Turkish swingman will be playing left bench until the Sixers come out flat and need a quick spark. Milton’s role on the team is up for debate with Melton being the backup point guard. Thybulle, in all probability, will keep his minutes for defensive purposes. We’ll find out the answers to these plot holes soon enough. If this is Philly’s biggest problem, they’re in a very good spot.
“Sum 2 Prove”
If I had a dollar for every time the media falsely accused James Harden of being a “selfish” player, I’d match his new contract. A frequent complaint about the Harden/Simmons trade was the 33-year-old owning a $47,400,000 player option. These worries were amped up following Philadelphia’s disappointing playoff exit. Nonetheless, James was firm about his desire to remain in Philly. After the Sixers were eliminated, Harden simply told the media “I’ll be here” when asked if he’d run it back next season. (via Austin Krell of The Painted Lines)
For the sake of the team, he ended up declining that player option. He then swiftly began constructing a new deal with the front office. After weeks of anticipation, both parties agreed to a two-year deal projected to be worth $68,640,000. (via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN) This year, Harden will earn an estimated $33,000,000, which is about a $14,000,000 pay cut. Entering 2023 free agency, the former MVP will once again have a player option, this time worth $35,640,000.
The Ripple Effect
Without Harden’s self-sacrificing pay cut, a majority of Philly’s additions wouldn’t be here. If Harden accepted his $47,400,000 player option, the Sixers would’ve been ineligible for the non-tax-payer mid-level exception. As a result, P.J. Tucker would’ve taken his talents elsewhere. After all, the prime reasons Tucker signed with Philly were because of the money and his connections with Harden and Morey. On top of that, Philadelphia would’ve been well above the tax apron, making it nearly impossible to improve the team. The Sixers also wouldn’t have been capable of acquiring the high-end role players they have now.
Highs and Lows
James may have squashed the “selfish” narrative this summer, but he’s still got a lot to prove. Harden averaged a mediocre 18.2 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 7.0 assists per game, on subpar efficiency against Miami in the postseason. However, the numbers can only shed so much light on Harden’s underwhelming performance. The 2019 MVP lost his shooting touch, which blemished his offensive reputation. Harden’s first step was far less volatile than we’ve seen in years past, making it easier for defenders to strip the ball. James’ ball control and penetration plummeted. He recklessly dribbled into traffic and indecisively held on to the ball. Of course, there was that outlier performance in Game 4. Regardless, Harden looked like a shadow of his MVP-caliber self.
Be that as it may, there were some bright spots last year. Harden wittingly created shots for others from his gravity and effortlessly drew contact attacking the rim. His all-time playmaking ability revolutionized Philly’s offense and uncovered strengths in players that weren’t utilized before. Tyrese Maxey’s off-ball play, Matisse Thybulle’s cutting, and Embiid’s rolling ability were highlighted by Harden’s playmaking. The Embiid/Harden pick-and-roll was a nightmare to defend when James was healthy. Between Harden’s dribble penetration and Joel’s dominance in the paint, there was truly no answer.
Many cited Harden’s superstar lifestyle and weight as the leading reasons why he underperformed. These radical accusations aren’t correct, but they aren’t completely false. Harden and Embiid played together for approximately three months. Anyone reasonable would realize that it’s difficult to develop chemistry in such a short period. Doc Rivers and James himself admitted that was learning on the fly throughout his brief time as a Sixer. Not to mention, he’s been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury since the 2021 playoffs. On the other hand, the star guard’s conditioning hasn’t been the greatest these past few years. With him being 33 years old and lurking hamstring issues, health should be James’ biggest priority.
Harden knew this and made it his mission to return to MVP form both physically and mentally. Throughout the offseason, there’ve been endless amounts of footage of Harden putting in work. It ranges from clips in the weight room to scrimmages, where James appears quicker and more decisive. Judging by recent photos, it seems Harden added more muscle and has a slimmer build. James has also done his fair share of partying this summer, and rightfully so. He made an appearance at Michael Rubin’s star-studded party in the Hamptons. Some other notable guests were Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, P.J. Tucker, Meek Mill, Lil Baby, and Travis Scott. Who could forget Harden’s birthday party, where he chucked his cake into the ocean? Judging from that alone, it’s fair to say that James is locked in and ready to win a championship.
Joel Embiid, James Harden, and their new teammate P.J. Tucker with Meek Mill at Michael Rubin’s party in the Hamptons— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) July 4, 2022
Tyrese Maxey was also there
📸 @kodaklens pic.twitter.com/lMghhu7hTy
The Final Piece
Although Philly’s roster is incredibly deep, they were still lacking one thing, a reliable backup center. After trading Andre Drummond, the Sixers required center depth, which became very problematic down the road. The undisciplined Paul Reed lacked experience and DeAndre Jordan’s lob city days were well behind him. This was crystal clear when Embiid was sidelined during the first two games against Miami.
The undisputed difference between those two and Andre Drummond was consistency. Drummond could dominate the boards, catch lobs, and roll to the rim on a nightly basis. In a matter of 10 minutes, Andre could nearly rack up a double-double. His two-way play had an immediate effect on the game. Most importantly, his services allowed Embiid to get some rest. Naturally, you’d want to fill that hole and Morey did just that.
We thought Philadelphia’s roster was complete and their free agency spree was over. To everyone’s surprise, Morey had one last trick up his sleeve. Earlier this month, Philly unexpectedly signed Montrezl Harrell to a minimum two-year deal. He’s going to rake in $2,463,490 this season. He’ll then head into free agency next year with a $2,760,026 player option. Morey yet again added another former Houston Rocket to the team. Montrezl had connections with James Harden, who urged him to join the Sixers. (via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN) Not to mention, Doc Rivers and Sam Cassell coached him in his Clippers days.
That Real Sticky Icky-Icky
Unfortunately, signing with the Sixers wasn’t the biggest news that came out about Harrell this offseason. In early May, Montrezl was pulled over in Kentucky for aggressively tailing another vehicle. It was then that the officer smelled the Devil’s lettuce in Montrezl’s car. Sure enough, the police confiscated three pounds of marijuana stashed somewhere in the vehicle.
Harrell received a felony charge for carrying three pounds of weed. If he were to be convicted, the big man would’ve faced up to five years behind bars. Thankfully, Montrezl’s lawyer, with the talents of Saul Goodman, got the charges reduced to a misdemeanor. Harrell pleaded guilty and if stays out of trouble for a year, then this will be erased from his record. (via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN)
On the Court
Harrell averaged 13.1 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, and 2.0 assists per game, with a 68.0% true-shooting percentage (11.4% above league average) last season.
The majority of Montrezl’s shot attempts are inches away from the paint and that’s why his efficiency is an outlier. Harrell’s game revolves around the pick-and-roll and diving for lobs. Rarely do you see Harrell score without dunking or hitting a layup. His playstyle compliments James Harden and his ability to run the pick-and-roll. Harden always loves a good big man who can roll to the basket. Harden’s pick and rolls are most effective when he has a lob threat like Dwight Howard, Clint Capela, and even DeAndre Jordan.
Defensively, Montrezl is a bit undersized and struggles to protect the paint against bigger bodies. Still, he’s noticeably more mobile than Andre Drummond was and a tenacious shot blocker. Montrezl’s intangibles might be the best thing about his game. He plays with an underdog mentality and gives it his all in each possession. With Harrell’s competitive nature, Tucker’s leadership, and a motivated squad, the Sixers will look like a different team.
Long as you know, got some from all you who turn your back and counted the kid out! https://t.co/fc5aOUUdTi— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) September 23, 2022
Stuck in the Mud
Acquiring Harrell was a fantastic choice, but it does raise a controversial question. What about Paul Reed? If you’ve been keeping up with the Sixers these past few years, it’s clear that Doc Rivers doesn’t trust Reed. Fans have rallied across social media demanding that Paul gets rotational minutes. He dominated the Summer League with his versatile defense and improved post moves. Up until the Montrezl signing, fans were expecting Doc to finally throw him in the rotation. But, with Harrell set to be the backup, that leaves Paul stuck in the mud. Reed is entering his third year in the NBA without a secure place in the rotation. It’ll be curious to see what his role will be on this stacked 76ers squad.
Heading Into Training Camp
A team can carry up to 20 players during the offseason. The Sixers are heading into training camp with 18 players on the roster. This includes active players, two-way players, non-guaranteed contracts, and an exhibit 10 contract.
Charlie Brown Jr. and rookie Julian Champagnie occupy Philadelphia’s two-way slots. Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, Trevelin Queen, and Charles Bassey’s contracts aren’t fully guaranteed. That means they can be cut at any time. Joe and Reed’s $1,782,621 contracts will become fully guaranteed on opening night (October 18th). Bassey’s $1,563,518 contract and Queen’s $1,637,975 deal will be guaranteed January 10th. Rookie Michael Foster Jr. has a non-guaranteed $1,017,781 Exhibit 10 deal. (via Sportstrac)
It’s safe to say the undrafted forward will be cut sometime after training camp. Assuming that’ll be the case, Philly will need to cut two more players before the season starts. You can roster up to 15 players during the regular season, excluding two ways. The Sixers have great depth at the guard and wing positions, so one can assume Trevelin Queen and Isaiah Joe are both on the hot seat.
Mo Money Mo Problems
The Sixers took full advantage of their financial flexibility this summer. Morey used the full non-tax-payer mid-level exception to sign P.J. Tucker. After that, Danuel House was acquired with the bi-annual exception Then, Philly signed Montrezl Harrell to a minimum deal. The only exception Philadelphia has left is the $1,669,178 trade exception from the Harden deal that expires on February 10th.
Philadelphia is approximately $32,000,000 over the salary cap and $5,700,000 over the luxury tax threshold. Unfortunately, the Sixers are only $918,639 below the tax apron, also known as the hard cap. The numbers may not be exact because Harden’s $33,000,000 salary is an estimate. If Philly became hard capped, they’d be unable to take on any more money and lose all their flexibility heading into the offseason. Morey will need to be careful and may have to make a salary-dumping trade for some breathing room.
From the star-studded starting lineup to the elite bench depth, Philly is the most dangerous they’ve been since the Julius Erving days. The Sixers are entering the 2022-2023 season with a vengeance. Joel Embiid is as hungry as ever after losing the MVP award to Nikola Jokic for the 2nd straight year and losing in the conference semifinals once more. James Harden wants to remind the world who he is and he’s going harder than ever to win his first championship. Tyrese Maxey is working day and night to make that leap from a rising star to a bonafide all-star. Tobias Harris knows his role and is ready to play it to the best of his ability. With the additions of P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, Danuel House, and Montrezl Harrell, Philly has enough firepower to make a heavily desired finals run.
The Philadelphia 76ers are back.
EN. pic.twitter.com/tlBuKCXtnF— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) September 24, 2022