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Revamped Sixers still in desperate need of a dominant perimeter go-to scorer

The 76ers need a guy who can get a bucket, finish isolation plays, take opponents off the dribble, and bury a three-pointer.

The Sixers need a player like Houston's James Harden (left), who can be a difference maker when it counts most.
The Sixers need a player like Houston's James Harden (left), who can be a difference maker when it counts most.Read moreMark J. Terrill / AP

There’s still one major move to make.

The 76ers need a guy who they can depend on to consistently get a bucket. They need someone, who can finish isolation plays taking opponents off the dribble or burying step-back three-pointers. They need someone, who can strike fear in defenders while making things easier for Joel Embiid.

Yes, they still need James Harden or a James Harden-type player.

“We feel very good where we are at,” Sixers new president of basketball operation Daryl Morey said in the wee hours of Thursday morning when asked if the team needed to make an additional move. “Obviously, our job is to always look for opportunities. But we feel very good about where we are right now.”

Morey’s comments came after the Sixers added much-needed sharpshooters Danny Green and Seth Curry while trading Al Horford, Josh Richardson and other assets in separate draft-night deals on Wednesday.

The Sixers sent Horford, a 2025 protected first-round pick, the 34th pick in Wednesday’s draft and the rights to Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Green and Terrance Ferguson. They also packaged the 36th pick and Richardson to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Curry.

The Sixers chose combination guard Tyrese Maxey (21st pick), sharpshooting guard Isaiah Joe (49th), and post player Paul Reed (58th) in the draft.

The moves, especially the trades, were great for the Sixers. They undid the disastrous deals they made prior to last season in free agency. They signed Horford to a four-year, $97 million guaranteed deal to play alongside and to backup Embiid, a three-time All-Star. They acquired Josh Richardson in return for Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat.

Well, Horford didn’t mesh well on the floor with Embiid and All-Star point guard Ben Simmons. So the Sixers basically overpaid for a backup center. Richardson was unhappy with his role and had been mentioned in several possible trades. The Sixers ended up flipping him for a much-needed perimeter player in Curry, who’ll save them $3.1 million in salary cap space.

In all, the Sixers traded $38.3 million in salary and took in $27 million, reducing their cap space by $11.3 million. So those were commendable moves that provided flexibility. So was obtaining the collective sharpshooting of Green and Curry, which the Sixers hadn’t had since the 2017-18 season.

Back then, no one questioned if Simmons and Embiid could co-exist. The spacing enabled them to both thrive during the final third of the regular season and in their first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat.

But those sharpshooters couldn’t propel the Sixers past the Boston Celtics in the next round, where the team was humbled in five games.

It was obvious that Philly missed perimeter defenders and a go-to perimeter player, who could create his own shot, which were needed to contend for the title.

They added that player the following season in Butler, but his tenure in Philly was short-lived. JJ Redick, one of the sharpshooters they depended on in 2017-18, signed with the New Orleans last summer.

So Morey got the Sixers back to where they were at the conclusion of 2018 playoffs. Now, the Sixers have a defensive-minded coaching staff along with Simmons, a first-team All-Defense selection, Matisse Thybulle, and Green to anchor the perimeter defense. The Sixers also announced Saturday the signing of backup center Dwight Howard to a veteran-minimum deal. He should help with rim protection in relief of Embiid.

But they’re far from complete without a perimeter player opposing teams will fear in isolation plays when things get serious in the playoffs.

» READ MORE: Sixers fix past mistakes with trades, and set the stage for something bigger | David Murphy

Harden is that guy. Morey knows that more than anyone. Remember, the former Houston Rockets general manager acquired Harden in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 27, 2012. At the time, Harden was the Thunder’s sixth man. But with Morey and the Rockets, he made eight straight All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA berths, three scoring titles, and was named the 2018 league MVP.

The shooting guard wants to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets, where Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have formed a superstar nucleus. Meek Mill is reportedly trying to convince Harden, a close friend, to make the Sixers his preferred destination.

But the Sixers would have to include Simmons in any package with the Rockets to get the deal done. Philly wants to keep the tandem of Simmons and Embiid together.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers “is extremely comfortable, as am I, with what we have,” Morey said during that early-morning post-draft Zoom call on Thursday.

True or not, Morey had to state that publicly.

It’s never good to have a star player upset over knowing his team is prepared to include him in a trade, especially when there’s no guarantee they get the preferred target.

The Rockets say they intend to keep Harden, one the league’s top 5 players, who is under contract this season and next. He has a player option for the 2022-23 season. Sources have said that Houston owner Tilman Fertitta doesn’t want to trade him to the Sixers.

But if they do let Harden go, Houston wants a young cornerstone player and picks in return. The Nets can’t offer that, but the Sixers can in Simmons.

» READ MORE: Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers’ first-round draft pick, is out to prove he can score by Marc Narducci, Posted: November 19, 2020

Right now, there’s no rush to make a move with the season not starting until Dec. 22 and the trade deadline being months away. The Sixers say they want to see how their players perform together, but it remains to be seen if Simmons can expand his shooting range to make it harder to defend him.

In the meantime, Harden could create an unbearable situation for the Rockets by making it obvious he wants out.

So, regardless of what’s being said publicly, Harden-to-the-Sixers scenario shouldn’t be ruled out, especially when there’s still a major move to be made.