Sports | May 13, 2022 12:51 pm

Joel Embiid Says James Harden Isn’t the Same Player Anymore. He’s Right.

If Philadelphia decides to keep the 32-year-old on a long-term deal, consider The Process busted once and for all

James Harden and Joel Embiid react against the Miami Heat during Game Four of the playoffs
James Harden and Joel Embiid react against the Miami Heat during Game Four of the playoffs.
Mitchell Leff/Getty

Speaking to the media after being knocked out of the playoffs by his former 76ers teammate Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, MVP runner-up Joel Embiid gave his thoughts on his current Philadelphia running mate James Harden.

“Obviously, since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a playmaker,” Embiid said. A playmaker who had nine assists but scored just 11 points, none in the second half, in 43 minutes on the floor during Miami’s 99-90 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Embiid is correct that Harden isn’t the same player he was when he won an MVP award (but never a title) with the Houston Rockets and led the league in scoring for three straight seasons. Hell, Harden isn’t even the same player he was earlier this season when he was playing for Brooklyn as he averaged fewer points, rebounds and steals and shot a lower percentage after being traded to Philly by the Nets for a package centered around Ben Simmons.

Set to turn 33 before the start of next season, Harden is eligible to opt into the final year of his contract, which is worth $47.3 million next season. After that, he’ll be eligible to sign a four-year, $223 million extension on August 10, the six-month anniversary of his trade to Philadelphia, which would make him the highest-paid player in NBA history with an average annual salary of $55.8 million.

Paying Harden nearly $50 million next season already looks like a bad deal for Philadelphia given how he played this season. Making Harden, who averaged 21.0 points, 10.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds during his 21 regular-season games with the Sixers but saw those numbers dip to 18.6 points, 8.6 assists and 5.7 rebounds during his 12 playoff contests, the highest-paid player in pro basketball with a long-term deal would be a mistake of epic proportions.

The 76ers, who have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2001, have a franchise cornerstone in Embiid and have tried to build around him without much success. It didn’t work with Butler. It didn’t work with Simmons. And it isn’t going to work with Harden, especially at such an outlandish price.

“I know I tried. I think for the most part, we tried,” Embiid said. “It just wasn’t good enough. At some point, you’ve got to stop looking at coaches and the front office. You’ve got to look at the players. Maybe we’re just not good enough.”

Harden certainly isn’t, anymore.