Harden is only 32 years old, so even by professional athlete standards, he isn’t exactly standing on the precipice of the retirement home. But he has a lot of mileage on his legs. His last two seasons have been hampered by injury, and before that, he played eight straight seasons while appearing in at least 68 games, not including playoffs. On top of it all, no one team was more reliant on its star than the Rockets were on Harden during that stretch. The wear-and-tear effect is genuine, and we’re watching it unfold before our very eyes.
The Sixers don’t need the Houston version of Harden, admittedly. He’s still an otherworldly passer, and his mere presence helps guys like Tyrese Maxey get wide-open shots during games. At a certain point, however, Philly will need firepower. The Sixers didn’t trade a haul for Harden to just set the table. Instead, they’ll need him to step up when Embiid is having an off night or can’t get a shot up over the mass of bodies sent at him in the post.
Past versions of Harden could do that. We don’t know if this version can. And that may be a vast problem sooner rather than later for the 76ers.