The 76ers need a better Harden and a healthy Embiid

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The 76ers have already cleared up the first unknown that surrounded them in this recess after their elimination: Doc Rivers will remain as coach next season, despite the controversy that surrounded him in these playoffs.

Another question would seem resolved: James Harden wants to stay in Philadelphia and the Sixers want him back. Everything points to a yes, but there is no certainty that an agreement for almost 50 million dollars will be finalized for the following season.

Only NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey are certain of their permanence. Not so the rest of the players after the team was eliminated again, this time in the second round, after losing in six games against the Miami Heat.

The Sixers have lost four times since 2018 in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs — once as the top seed — and were swept in the first round in 2020.

They haven’t gotten past the second round since 2001 and have only made it a couple of times since winning their previous NBA championship in 1983 — the other was in 1985.

Ten years ago, the Sixers were the underdog to advance to the playoffs after kicking out the top-seeded Bulls. Tired of early eliminations, the 76ers promptly launched the long-debated Process, which paid off for Embiid but not much else.

The Sixers aren’t looking to start from scratch, not with Embiid in his prime, a packed Wells Fargo Center every night, and a core theoretically endowed with the pieces to put together a strong team.

Can this club, with owners Josh Harris and Dave Blitzer, team president Daryl Morey and Rivers ever win a championship, at least while Embiid is under contract through 2026-27?

“That’s exactly where we are,” Rivers said Friday. “We were in the fight.”

But the Sixers are not without controversy at various points.

Why does Rivers repeat? Does Harden deserve a maxi agreement? Who is responsible for Embiid not being able to stay healthy? And the Sixers’ setbacks in Games 5 and 6 raise the question: Why did the club let Jimmy Butler go after the 2019 season?

“Tobias Harris over me?!” Butler, a former 76ers shooting guard, declared as he walked into the Miami locker room.

The Sixers have settled into a comfortable 50-win rut among the top seeds in the Eastern Conference and are going as far as Embiid can take them.

“We have some of the best, if not the best, players on the planet,” Morey said. “We have to do more. All of us”.

But Embiid suffered a fractured orbital bone in Game 6 of the first-round series against Toronto. The matchup was decided, and fans accuse Rivers of leaving the star unnecessarily on the court, putting the rest of the season at risk.