Last weekend, when the Philadelphia 76ers received a breakthrough 31-point performance from James Harden during Game 4 of their East semifinal series, it appeared as though the veteran superstar had returned to his dominant self at an opportune time. But the 32-year-old guard didn't make a strong effort to exorcise old playoff demons in a do-or-die Game 6, and he failed to resemble that missing piece to a championship puzzle.
Facing elimination at home against the Miami Heat on Thursday night, Harden folded under pressure and further damaged his reputation. He scored a scant 11 points on nine shots in the 76ers' 99-90 loss at Wells Fargo Center, and also failed to score one point in the second half. Harden attempted only two shots after halftime, missing both, and made his last bucket with under four minutes left in the first half. It was Philadelphia's fourth second-round exit in five years.
"Wish I could explain it. We've seen it before. And that's the one thing about James Harden that you always worry about -- that it's going to surface at an inopportune time," ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler explained to The Zach Gelb Show on Friday. "Joel Embiid certainly needed him in this series, as banged-up as he was. A close-out game at home, when you have a chance to get to Game 7, to play with that little aggressiveness...
"And really a lack of regard, responsibility toward his teammates, it's alarming. It's appalling and alarming... And there's a very good chance he's going to get [the supermax deal]. I couldn't commit that kind of money and sleep at night. And you're basically signing yourself up for this, what you saw last night... It's going to be very difficult for Daryl Morey to not offer it to him. And I think it's an enormous mistake. It's going to hamstring the franchise for several years."
Harden, who was acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Brooklyn Nets in February, offered yet another slate of underwhelming playoff performances. In 12 games this spring, he averaged 18.6 points with 8.6 assists, 5.7 boards, and 4.2 turnovers over 39.9 minutes. For his career, Harden's now averaging 23.4 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.5 turnovers while shooting 42.6-percent from the field and 32.9-percent from behind the arc in elimination contests.
The Sixers are in a precarious position with Harden, as he's eligible to earn a supermax contract extension worth up to $250 million over five years during free agency this offseason. But, if he opts in to the final year of his contract with the team, he'll make a whopping $47.3 million in the 2022-23 campaign. Following the Sixers' elimination loss, Harden told reporters that he'll remain with the team, and do whatever it takes to "compete at the highest level."
The entire basketball conversation between Legler and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.