Sixers’ James Harden optimism has a familiar twist

The final piece of the Sixers’ plan to build a championship team was firmly in place behind a press conference table in Camden, and by then all that was left was celebration.

A roster centered around All-Star center Joel Embiid was close, but not quite ready for the championship, but ultimately there was the extra superstar needed to finish that job. So there were questions, promises, smiles and camera clicks. And of course, we expected that, this time, everything would be fine.

“All I want to do,” said the newest Sixer, a spectacular two-way guard likely destined for the Hall of Fame, “is win.”

That was the plan.

It was time.

“This,” the general manager said, “is the championship window.”

And why not?

How could Elton Brand and the Sixers be anything other than legendary now that they had…Jimmy Butler?

This was during the 2018-19 season, and it would later be followed by the acquisition of Tobias Harris, and it would all end in a second-round loss to Toronto, with Kawhi Leonard simultaneously giving up the series-winning shot and the concept. only championships can be won rotisserie league style. That’s what Daryl Morey hinted at on Tuesday, when at that same facility in Camden, maybe at that same table, but three years later, the Sixers were back.

Then it was Butler, one of the great finishers of his time.

Tuesday was James Harden, one of the great finishers of his time, acquired last week in a deal involving Ben Simmons.

Different eras, same rhymes.

“We knew from the moment Ben asked that if we were going to make a trade it had to be for one that we felt would allow us to compete at a high level,” Morey said. “And the way this league works, you have to get players of the caliber of James Harden to partner with a Joel Embiid and a Tobias.

“You can win without it. But if you look at the league historically, you’re looking at pretty long odds if you don’t have two great players of that level playing there.

The great players succeed, in this league, in all the other leagues. The Nets were successful to a point last year with Harden and Kevin Durant — Blake Griffin as well — but fell in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks. Harden, Durant, and Griffin are about as impressive as Harden, Embiid, and Harris, but sometimes that’s how it works.

While there are differences — and in sports, no two situations are the same — the Sixers are better coached with Doc Rivers than the Nets with Steve Nash, Embiid has gone from star to superstar since Butler was there and the field of the Eastern Conference is different. Also, for the Sixers, Simmons is no longer there to be drained in the locker room and the free throw line.

Just because it didn’t work out with a Butler-Embiid starter doesn’t mean the Sixers can’t make a powerful drive in contention with Embiid and Harden.

So …

“After the break,” said Harden, who expects to be cured of a hamstring condition after taking the next All-Star Weekend off, “it’s time to go.”

That’s about all a franchise can do, round up good players, pay a good coach, cool the clubhouse hot tub, and hope the officials don’t display an urgent need for eye surgery at the laser. Although he had to give up his best shot, Seth Curry, in the trade, Morey was able to hang on to young guards Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey. The Sixers remain a bit short of center depth, but as Rivers hinted on Tuesday, they’ll take a backup for Embiid out of the buyout market.

Go time, as the man said.

“Our goal was to keep as many great players as possible,” Morey said. “We’re in James and Joel and Tobias’ window right now. Making sure Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle were there were two big priorities for us. We didn’t want to let go. But you have to give up something to make a trade and get a Hall of Famer, a player that can put us in another level of competition. So we are very comfortable.

For an organization that has gone out of its way for too long not to prioritize immediate success, the Sixers have been nothing in recent years if not desperate for a championship. They judged Simmons, who was exposed as a loser. They tried Butler, whose urge to control everything from who shot the ball late in the game to how substitution patterns should work would be a handful for any manager. Harris, if overpaid, helped.

“I’m excited, man,” the new Sixers star said. “Just going to that arena is going to be something special.”

So said James Harden on Tuesday. It sounded familiar.

Contact Jack McCaffery at [email protected]

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