The Philadelphia 76ers needed a co-star for Joel Embiid when the former Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons held out from the team throughout the first half of the 2021-2022 NBA season.
Embiid maintained an MVP level of play throughout the season and kept the Sixers relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
But it was clear that Embiid wasn’t going to be able to do it alone. Therefore, Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey did all he could to find the right deal before the trade deadline. Eventually, the Sixers’ patience paid off as they landed a ten-time All-Star in James Harden.
The Harden era in Philly hasn’t gone on for long, but the experience has been quite the roller coaster. Throughout the regular season, the Harden-Embiid duo started off strong but showed wrinkles throughout the final stretch of the year.
Harden, Embiid, and the Sixers hoped to have it all figured out before the playoffs, but the 76ers couldn’t take it further than they’ve been in recent years.
After taking down the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers faced the Miami Heat in the second round. Since Joel Embiid suffered an orbital fracture and a concussion on top of his torn thumb ligament, the big man missed Games 1 and 2 versus Miami.
In those matchups, the Sixers lost. There is no telling if the Sixers would’ve stolen a win on the road or not had Embiid been healthy and playing, but the 76ers center knew that he would return and make his series debut at some point.
Embiid masked up and pushed through the pain from Game 3 and beyond. He helped the Sixers snag two wins, but his team lost the final two and found their season concluding early.
Although Embiid’s heroic return didn’t result in a series upset in favor of the Sixers, Embiid’s relatively new co-star appreciated his fight.
“He'll do whatever it takes to win,” said Harden after the Sixers’ Game 6 loss last week. “I mean, just with his injury, he just continues to fight and continues to be there for his team even though he's not 100-percent. So, credit to him for being out there. His presence alone is a game-changer.”
Embiid and Harden didn’t have a ton of time to master playing alongside each other. Considering Harden intends to return to Philadelphia for the 2022-2023 season, the two stars will have an entire offseason to get their chemistry figured out to find better results for next year.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.
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