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The Philadelphia 76ers are coming for the NBA crown.
While that may be true for the duration of Joel Embiid’s prime, it feels particularly pertinent right now.
Philly is coming off a 51-win season and conference semifinals trip, and it still kept the floor throttled this offseason. Between a draft-night deal for De’Anthony Melton and the free-agency additions of PJ Tucker and Danuel House Jr., the Sixers added serious depth to a roster with one of the league’s better collections of high-end talent.
The Sixers should be one of the teams to watch during the 2022-23 season, but before that arrives, let’s revisit free agency to find a few winners and losers.
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James Harden’s case is unique, because most players wouldn’t take an eight-figure haircut (Beard trim?) and still stand out as a summer winner.
However, market forces didn’t drive down the size of his deal. The 32-year-old did that on his own in an effort to better position his team for major postseason success.
I told [Sixers president of basketball operations] Daryl [Morey] to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over,” Harden told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. “This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. … I’m willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that.”
If everything breaks right and the Sixers make a championship run, Harden’s legacy could get a big lift from his sacrifice.
Plus, he should be as comfortable as ever with former teammates—and tremendous on-floor complements—Tucker and House back at his side. Philly needed to beef up its perimeter defense, and the former Rockets forwards not only provide that, but they can also feast on the catch-and-launch shots Harden routinely creates with drive-and-kick deliveries.
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Paul Millsap was once a shining example of consistency and dependability. However, the aging curve catches up to everyone at some point, and that might be what we’re seeing with the 37-year-old.
His 2021-22 campaign was the quietest of his career. He logged just 376 minutes across 33 games, which were both easily new personal lows. His shooting rates tanked (39.1 overall, 22.9 from range), and he couldn’t carve out a significant role with the Brooklyn Nets or, after being included in the Harden-Ben Simmons swap, with the Sixers, either.
Millsap hasn’t found a new contract yet, and at this point, it’s fair to wonder whether that call will come.
His decline hasn’t gone on long—he played 1,162 minutes and had an above-average player efficiency rating in 2020-21, per Basketball Reference—but that may not matter. If the NBA has decided this is the new version of Millsap, it could also conclude that it no longer has a place in it.
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Free agency always figured to treat PJ Tucker well.
He offered almost universal appeal to win-now shoppers. Who doesn’t need a versatile, ultra-reliable defender who just splashed a career-best 41.5 percent of his threes?
Still, Tucker may have even surprised himself with just how well free agency went. A three-year, $33 million deal, per Spotrac, is a good haul for anyone, let alone a 37-year-old who has never averaged double-digit points.
Oh, and the contract features a player option, so if he actually outperforms his pay rate, he could even find a pay raise for that year.
Financially, it’s a sweet setup, and the basketball fit looks even better. He has already proved he fits with Harden like a tailored suit, and Tucker can really dig in defensively knowing he has an interior force like Embiid behind him.