The Philadelphia 76ers have not played a basketball game in well over a week now. Their next game won’t come until the start of the 2024 season, sometime this fall. It’s the unfortunate reality of playoff elimination, and it leaves a lot of time for thinking. It also, though, leaves time to watch the teams still remaining in the playoffs and compare them to the Sixers. The main focus, of course, is the team that the Sixers would’ve matched up with had they won that fateful Game 7 in Boston. The Miami Heat have already taken a 3-0 lead on the Celtics, and seem destined for the NBA Finals. It’s a development that has left many Sixers fans wondering “Why isn’t that us??” Well, there are multiple reasons for the Heat’s success compared to the Sixers, but I believe there’s one big reason that South Beach has seen better basketball than South Philly: development.

No, I’m not talking about real estate. I’m talking about players, specifically role players. Since LeBron James took off back for Cleveland, the Miami Heat have been an organization that has been built on the strength of role players. Yes, Jimmy Butler is HOOPING this postseason, but the big difference between the Sixers (who do still have Joel Embiid) and the Heat is the ability of the secondary and tertiary players. Let’s take a look at some of those players for each team and see if you can tell the difference I’m talking about. The Sixers’ playoff rotation included PJ Tucker, DeAnthony Melton, Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels, Danuel House, and Paul Reed. The Heat’s rotation includes Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, Kyle Lowry, and Kevin Love.

Do you see it? Let me tell you what I take from those lists. Of those 6 players on the Sixers list, only one of them was drafted by the organization: Paul Reed. The rest of the list either came to Philly as free agents or via trade, and you could argue that they were all established NBA players by the time they put on a Sixers uniform. Meanwhile, the Miami list of 6 includes 4 undrafted players, obviously the ones not named Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love. There are multiple takeaways from this interesting trend, none of which are that the Sixers should start signing every undrafted free agent. You see, it’s not so much that the Heat rotational players are undrafted; it’s that they have been given time.

Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry are super important to this too, as are Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. You need some veterans to bring young players along and help establish a culture, but the Sixers approach of having nearly your whole rotation made of free-agent mercenaries doesn’t seem to be working. You see, in Philadelphia, with a ravenous fan base, a process to justify, and a window of a superstar in Joel Embiid that seems to be small compared to others in the NBA today, there just isn’t much leeway to play young players. I don’t think this is a talent recognition problem; Tyrese Maxey has gone through huge development, as has Paul Reed. Both are important parts of this team. On top of that, Isaiah Joe and Charles Bassey, who both moved on to different teams this past offseason after not making the Sixers’ roster, have proven to have some ability to play at the NBA level. How does Miami handle similar situations?

Well, they let the young guys play. Not only do they find undrafted or unsigned players with discernable NBA skills, but they sacrifice regular season opportunities for their stars to help develop their role players. I don’t know if the Sixers could even employ that strategy considering how this fan base treats regular-season losses, but it’s clearly paying dividends for the Heat right now. Patience is not something the Sixers have earned, and it’s not something that might even be rational at this point in the Joel Embiid era, but the Heat have been using patience and development for years now, and to me, it’s the big difference between why these franchises are where they are right now.


14 Times James Harden Looked Awful in the Playoffs

The Sixers have a very tough decision to make. Resign James Harden, and get stuck with him for 4 years at max money when he is already 33. Or they can let him walk, and be left with no 2nd star, no starting PG, and no cap space to find another one. James Harden opting out of his contract really put them in an impossible position.

None of this may have mattered if he played even okay in game 6 or game 7. But instead, he was a disaster. Just like he was a disaster in games 2 and 3. As great as he was in games 1 and 4, and he is the main reason they won those two games, he is just as responsible for the Sixers 4 losses. That is not to say Joel Embiid is off the hook. Embiid was terrible too, especially in game 7. but he is still under contract, and still young enough to say he can correct his playoff issues. But James Harden is 33. And as the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Is this really the guy the Sixers want to tie their future to? If they sign him to a 4-year deal, it would mean he is Embiid’s running mate for the rest of his prime.

Yes not signing him is not a great option either. But that doesn’t mean re-signing him is a good one. James Harden has proven time and time again that he will not step up when it matters most. Is that going to change when he turns 34 in August? Or when he is 37 at the end of this deal? Will he all of a sudden not lose his legs in the playoffs like he did the past two seasons?

Before the Sixers rush into resigning James Harden, lets first look at Harden’s long history of coming up short when the games matter most:


  • Rookie Season Vs The Lakers

    In fairness to Harden, he was a rookie, and coming off the bench. So this was one you can absolutely forgive him for. He scored just 2 points off the bench, going 1 for 3 in an elimination game vs the Lakers that year. He did get a couple of steals, and rebounds. No one expects a rookie to step up in an elimination game. And he wasn’t even the great 6th man he would grow into with the Thunder yet. So he gets a pass for this one.

    James Harden in the Paint being guarded by pau Gasol

    (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

  • NBA Finals vs Heat in 2012

    Two years later, he was the guy though. Yes, he was on a team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But he was the 3rd guy on the team, and they were relying on him to score. Too bad in three games he couldn’t even get to double digits. After averaging 16.8 pts per game in the regular season, it fell to about 12 in the Finals. While Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook each saw their points per game improve in the series.

    He was not the guy for the Thunder that time like he would go on to be with the Rockets. But he was supposed to be a guy. It would be like if Maxey was getting held to 7 points every game in the NBA Finals. He wouldn’t get as much heat as either Harden or Embiid would have. But it would very much be worth criticizing. It has been his one and only chance so far to play in the Finals. And he did not show up to help his team when they needed him.

    James Harden guarding Lebron James in the NBA Finals

    (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)


  • Game 3 Vs Warriors in 2015 Western Conference Finals

    James Harden did help drag the Rockets to a few Western Conference Finals. The first of which came in 2015, vs the Warriors of course. Now beating the Warriors is a very tough task. That team was a dynasty. If James Harden went out swinging but just got beat by a better team, it would be hard to hold it against him. But that is not how it went down.

    The Rockets lost in 5 games.  And in game 3, with his team already down 0-2. He was really bad. 17 points on 16 shots bad. Yes, he followed it up by being a hero in game 4 by scoring 45 points to avoid the sweep. But if he wasn’t so bad in game 3, maybe they wouldn’t have been in danger of getting swept. Just like this season where it’s hard to give him credit for games 1 and 4 when he was so bad in the other games, it is hard to credit him in that 2015 series since he was part of the reason they weren’t down 0-3 to begin with. And as we are about to see, it got even worse in game 5.

    Hames Harden on the bench in game 3 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals.

    (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)


  • Game 5 in the 2015 Western Conference Finals

    Harden was even more of a disaster two games later. He continued his poor shooting from game 3 and added a major turnover problem. 14 points on 11 shots, and 12 turnovers. Nearly more turnovers than points. In a game that was win or go home. Yea good for you Harden. You had your 45-point game. But if you sandwich that with two games where you are a liability on the floor, is that actually impressive?

    James Harden walking off the court in game 5 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals

    (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

  • Game 1 vs the Warriors in 2016 First Round

    The next season, the Rockets had the misfortune of drawing the Warriors in round 1. And once again, the Rockets barely put up a fight. Also once again, James Harden was less than optimal. Game 1 started it off on a bad note. Just 17 points on 19-shot attempts. He had 6 turnovers on just 2 assists to go with it. All part of a 26-point loss to open the series. And remember, this was his first playoff game since that ugly 12 turnover game to end the last season.

    James Harden driving into the paint in game 1 vs the Warriors

    (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • Game 4 vs the Warriors in 2016 First Round

    He was good to decent in the next 2 games. As we saw this season, Harden can go from looking awful to good game to game. But there is always another bad game coming up. In this series, it was game 4. After scoring 28 and then 35 in games 2 and 3, he went back under 20. Just 18 points, while barely shooting .300. Just 4 turnovers though, so that is an improvement. It dropped the Rockets to 1-3 in the series. He did play well in game 5 where they were eliminated. But again, if he played well in games 1 and 4, maybe they aren’t down 1-3 to face elimination in game 5.

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 06: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets brings the ball up court against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 6, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)

    James Harden driving on the warriors in the playoffs

    (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

  • Game 2 vs Spurs in 2nd Round of 2017 Playoffs

    Next season, they got to avoid the Warriors in the playoffs. The problem is they ran into a different team that had been a dynasty. The Spurs. And it was the same story for James Harden once again. Hot one night, ice cold another. Never any consistency. He was fine in the game 1 win. But then with a chance to go up 2-0, he fell on his face. Just 20 points on 17 shots. The Rockets lost by 25. 2 for 9 from 3. 3 of 17 from the field. Sound familiar? In typical Harden fashion, he followed it up with some great games, including one where he scored 43. But it got the Rockets to down 3-2. And then game 6 happened.

    James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during Game Two of the NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals at AT&T Center on May 3, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas.

    (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)


  • Game 6 vs the Spurs in 2017 2nd Round

    10 points. 10 points in an elimination game. But the guy who is supposed to be the guy on the team. Embiid scored 15 in an elimination game, and we treated it as the worst thing ever (which he deserved blame for). Harden scored just 10. And he is the ball handler, no one needs to get him the ball. It was in his prime too. He won the MVP the next season. After 36 minutes, Harden fouled out, and his team lost by 39. The teams he is on sure seem to get blown out in elimination games a lot.

    James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets leaves the court after their 114-75 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Game Six of the NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals

    (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Game 5 vs the Heat Last Season

    Credit to Harden, for a few seasons, he didn’t have his playoff blow-ups. He was bad in a couple of games vs the Bucks in 2021 with the Nets. But he was also just coming back from an injury. So I left those games off because we don’t know how bad he was hurting. But even while limited by the hamstring in his first season with the Sixers, his performance was not good enough. In game 5 the Sixers lost by 29, and he scored just 14 points with 4 assists on 13 shots.

    James Harden talking to Doc Rivers

    (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Game 6 vs the Heat in 2022 2nd Round

    Game 6 was even uglier for Harden. It made two straight 4th quarters without him scoring a point. In game 6, he took just 2 shots in the second half. he hit none of them. He finished with 11 points on 9 shot attempts. You get James Harden thinking you are getting a guy who will keep shooting and put up buckets. The version of Harden they saw in the final two games vs the Heat, looked more like Ben Simmons. Too scared to drive or shoot.

    James Harden reacts on the court vs the Heat

    (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Game 2 vs the Celtics in 2023 2nd Round

    And now we come to the games from this season. Harden was great in game 1. Without EMbiid, he put the team on his back, scored 45, and hit the game-winning shot. And many thought he finally was healthy and ready to step up in the playoffs. He followed that up with a 12-point game on a night the Sixers lost by 21. He shot 2 of 14. He was getting blocked a ton on drives, and couldn’t hit a 3. It was bad, but at this point, many Sixers fans were just happy to have split the series.

    James Harden driving into the paint against the Celtics

    (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • Game 3 vs the Celtics

    He followed that up by scoring 16 points on 14 shots in game 3. Not as bad, still not anywhere near good enough. The Sixers lost by 12, to fall behind 1-2 in the series. He did have 11 assists, which helps things a bit. But the Sixers needed someone besides Embiid to score in that game, and Harden was brought in to be that guy. They needed him to be so much better, but he could not give it to them in game 3. In game 4 he was great again. But like I have said so many times already if he was better in the games before game 4, would they have needed him top play hero to avoid going down 1-3 in game 4?

    James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the Boston

    (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Game 6 vs the Celtics

    At home, with a 3-2 lead, the Sixers came up really small in game 6. And James Harden is part of that. Joel Embiid struggled from the floor, but still eventually got his points. Harden? He got 13 points on 16 shot attempts. Along with everyone else, he was missing shot after shot in the 4th quarter. It was yet another playoff game he shot under .300. You will notice it is becoming a trend.

    James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts against Malcolm Brogdon #13 of the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter

    (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Game 7 vs the Celtics

    Which brings us to game 7. When the Sixers got embarrassed and booted from the 2nd round again. 9 points by James Harden, on 11 shots. Another playoff game under .300. 5 turnovers. Oh, and yet another games where his team gets blown out in an elimination game. That is 8 times his team lost by double digits in an elimination game. 4 times by 20 or more. It is becoming a pattern. Now after this loss, it looks like he he tucking his tail in, and running back to Houston where there will be less pressure.

  • Conclusion

    Has Harden had great playoff games? Yes. We saw two of them this postseason. But he has way too many awful playoff games for a supposed Superstar. Him and his teams have a now long history of coming up small when it matters. Yes, he ran into a lot of dynasty teams in his time with the Rockets. But he himself did not play well enough to deserve that excuse. And this year we saw what is typical of a Harden playoff experience. Looks amazing one night, and then kills you the next. Maybe it is for the best that he is leaving.

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