A clear resolution to the James Harden stumper remains elusive for the Philadelphia 76ers brass. With just a couple of weeks before training camp opens, the team is still caught up with making up for lost time and bolstering the roster which were hampered by their summer-long dilemma.
It remains to be seen if Harden reports to camp, but the 76ers should clearly prepare for the likely occasion that the All-Star declines to suit up. Aside from the contractual repercussions that could unfold, the coaching staff would then be preoccupied with finding a starting lineup that can remain formidable around Joel Embiid, the reigning MVP.
One intriguing James Harden-less starting lineup the 76ers can employ
Nick Nurse is one of the most creative coaches in the league, but he also prefers to have a set starting unit and rotation. If so, here is one intriguing starting lineup that the 76ers can employ without Harden.
Embiid and Tyrese Maxey are the foundations of the opening group, and Tobias Harris seems like a safe bet to still log a very prominent role next season as a starter. Beyond those three players, however, Philadelphia has some wiggle room. That leaves open starting spots in the other guard and forward positions.
Between the aforementioned players, the 76ers already have a ton of scoring and self-creation. Hence, it would be logical to round out the starting lineup with defense-first complements and connectors.
Patrick Beverley, one of the 76ers’ new offseason signings, can be a nice fit next to Maxey. Known for his defense, intangibles, and grit, he can help shore up the perimeter defense while ably functioning as an emergency playmaker and floor spacer. The best thing about the veteran is he doesn’t need the ball to make an impact — and in a group with loads of players who need the rock in their hands, that’s increasingly important.
De’Anthony Melton is probably the more popular pick here, but it could be better for the coaching staff to cement him as the resident sixth man who can be a plug-and-play piece and start when needed. Of course, he can still be the option to close out games for the most part.
For the other position, starting Kelly Oubre Jr., the newest addition to the roster, could open up more possibilities in the starting unit. First, he allows Harris to slide to his more natural power forward position. Second, he shakes off defensive pressure that tend to double down on Embiid and Maxey. While he’s been far from a bastion of shooting efficiency, that could be chalked up to being miscast as a foremost option in Charlotte. With a more modest responsibility on offense, he can focus a lot more on his strengths.
PJ Tucker, who started at power forward last season, and Paul Reed, who seems poised for a bigger role, are also viable options. However, both are non-threats on offense, and having one of them alongside Beverley in the opening group will basically encourage defenses to gang up on Embiid, Maxey, and even Harris.
Nothing’s guaranteed with training camp yet to open, but a Maxey-Beverley-Oubre Jr.-Harris-Embiid starting lineup has a lot of intrigue going for it, especially if Harden doubles down on his refusal to be affiliated with the Sixers any longer.