Man I Shoulda Seen This Offseason Coming
Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and writes for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
Andrew's writing is brought to you by Kinetic Skateboarding! Not only the Ricky's approved skate shop, but the best place to get Chucks, Vans, any apparel. Use code "DAVESILVER" for 9.1% off your order.
In retrospect, I can't believe how goddamn naive I was. I saw that Woj tweet about Harden having probably played his last game as a Sixer, and I celebrated like the deal was already done. Probably it would actually take a couple weeks -- maybe a month -- but the Clippers wanted him, he wanted the Clippers, and we wanted to move on with our lives. Surely with all parties properly motivated, and no one likely to do much better than one another, they'd work out something without too much stalling and stressing, and move on with the rest of their offseasons from there. And then we'd all forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.
I truly do not know what team I thought I was following here. I was so relieved that the Sixers weren't going to simply double down on a Harden experiment that had proven it was not going to work that I forgot who the man was that would be tasked with figuring out their next hypothesis. Daryl Morey may be the guy you want if you're buying a house and trying to negotiate the best price and not get screwed on interest rates or whatever, but he isn't the guy you send out just to get a couple quick things from the store. If he was going to execute a trade to eject Harden from Philadelphia, it would almost certainly be like the trade that initially installed him here -- painfully drawn-out, and only executed at the last possible second.
Now it's been three weeks since the Woj tweet, and... y'all, this is gonna get so bad before it gets any better.
Say what you will about Ben Simmons, but he was very, very good at disappearing. His team might've waged PR wars (poorly) on his behalf, and he might've showed up to one Sixers practice for exactly long enough to create an iconic portrait of not giving a fuck, but generally he spent his trade-demand period bunkered down, invisible and totally out of contact, like a true Milford man. We will most likely not be so fortunate with James Harden, who is already getting into the vaguely self-motivational posts on Instagram. Next undoubtedly comes the Markelle Fultz-style frustration and paranoia, and then after that maybe the thinly veiled threats to the Sixers organization. And then if it actually gets to training camp... we are gonna get real, real sick of that mocked-up photo of Harden going to his closet for the fat suit.
And in the meantime, the discontent he sews may very well infect the whole team -- particularly his primary co-star. Joel Embiid could probably be persuaded either way about the team being better off with or without Harden, but he is certainly not going to suffer this well Dude we just don't know period particularly well, not after this playoff exit, not for the second time in three seasons. This week, he lets slip during a Maverick Carter interview -- love to pause the wedding planning for a minute to help promote the brand and set the fanbase on fire -- about the possibility of him winning a championship somewhere other than Philly; maybe next week he's seen clubbing in New York or getting a little too friendly with Jimmy Butler in the comments of one of his IG posts. Meanwhile, Tyrese Maxey remains unextended, several of our free agents are gone with no imminent replacements in sight, even Tobias Harris is probably getting impatient for Tobias Harris trade rumors to pick back up and Paul Reed.... well, we got BBall, at least, but only with Daryl waiting until the readout on the nuclear bomb said "007" or "420" or something before disarming it.
It's a real chaos menu offseason, and it's hard to see a way where sanity is restored before the Harden situation is resolved. But the personalities involved in that mess make resolution near-impossible: The Clippers know Morey has basically no choice but to give him to them eventually, but Morey refuses to deal (or acknowledge that he is dealing) from anything but a position of obscene strength and loves to play the waiting game even more than he loves to play ping-pong. The only way he could really build leverage in the situation is by convincing the Clippers that convincing Harden to return to the team next year is a viable option, but meanwhile, Harden is among the more obstinate superstars in NBA history, and once he's decided he's done somewhere he is d-o-n-e donezo -- and none too coy about it, either. So it's a three-way starting contest, until the Clippers get impatient, Daryl gets pressured, or Harden gets born again. I could not tell you which is the least unlikely to happen.
The good news in all of this cruddiness: I do still think it will happen. I don't know when or why or how, but just as Damian Lillard will almost certainly end up on the Miami Heat before Game One, I think so will James Harden ultimately make his way to Los Angeles. Something will give, someone will have their Come-to-Jesus moment, and the Sixers will ultimately trade James Harden to the Clippers for Some Stuff. Some pundits will lambast Morey for not getting more, others will praise him for getting as much as he did given the circumstances, and ultimately the Sixers under Embiid will once again be pretty good next regular season. Who knows? Maybe at the trade deadline we combine some of the Clippers' Stuff with some of our own Stuff and trade for a new star-caliber lead guard -- one who will probably then flame out in the playoffs, develop a tense relationship with our coaching staff and front office, and ultimately ask to be traded in the offseason.
There's nothing new under the sun with the Sixers, including and especially when it comes to our suffering. If the Sixers were a scripted drama -- can't rule it out I guess -- we'd have long since stopped watching regularly because of all the recycled plot lines, particularly during the miserable summer TV season. That's why I'm so mad at myself for getting blindsided by this; it's like I'm watching old Looney Tunes and doing a premature victory lap on Wile E. Coyote's behalf because it looks like this time, he's really got the Road Runner dead to rights. We can't stop this team from dropping anvils on us all summer; we might not even be able to get out of their way once they start falling. After 10 years, all we can hope for is to at least be smart enough to look up.