James Harden didn't take long upon arriving in Los Angeles to criticize the Philadelphia 76ers team that he just left. Despite leading the league in assists last season while averaging 21 points per game, Harden claimed his role in the offense was "like being on a leash." He went on to say that he is "not a system player, I am a system." In Houston, that philosophy made sense. He was the best player by far on his team and was right in the middle of his prime.
But he arrived in Philadelphia as an older, slower player, one that was still dominant in some ways, but not physically up to the task of being a system unto himself. Fortunately, he didn't have to be. The 76ers had the NBA's No. 3-ranked offense last season because it had both Harden and 2023 MVP Joel Embiid. On Thursday, Embiid addressed Harden's criticism, acknowledging his greatness as a player while disputing the idea that Philadelphia didn't give him the freedom to do enough.
"In my opinion, we gave him the ball every single possession, because he's really good," Embiid told reporters Thursday. "He's an amazing player. Obviously, being that great of a passer, I think we gave him the ball ... we'd give him the ball every single possession to just go out and, you know, do his thing. And from there he had to make decisions as far as getting guys open or looking out for himself."
Ultimately, Embiid was just happy to see the situation end. He wants to see Harden on the court again, but under specific circumstances. "I hope we both make the Finals, but he's on the losing side of it and we are on the winning side of it," Embiid said.
Harden got the trade he wanted. If he expects to be the "system" in Los Angeles on a team with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook, he's probably in for a rude awakening. As for Philadelphia? So far, the 76ers have been just fine without Harden. They are 3-1 and have given Tyrese Maxey the room he needs to play at an All-Star level. Ironically, he now seems to have the freedom that Harden craved, while the new Clippers point guard will have to figure out how to coexist with a wider cast of proven stars than he ever has before.