Once again, James Harden went missing when it mattered most in the postseason. In Game 7 against the Boston Celtics, with a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals on the line, Harden scored just nine points on 3-11 shooting, taking his tally over the last three games of the series to just 39 points on 11-35 shooting.

However, that was to an extent offset by a match-winning 45-point performance in Game 1 and 42 points in Game 4, and therein lies the James Harden dilemma. There will invariably be plenty of discussion about why the Philadelphia 76ers should trade him after his latest disappearing act, but I’m going to take a different approach. These are three reasons why the Sixers should keep Harden next season.

1. The guy has won an MVP

What more needs to be said? At his best, Harden was a one-man cheat code, his ability to isolate beyond the arc and either hit threes, get to the rim or get to the free throw line making him the best scorer in the league. He averaged 29.1 points and 11.2 assists in 2016-17, won the MVP with 30.4 points and 8.8 assists a night the next season, then averaged 36.1 and 34.3 points along with 7.5 assists a game over the next two.

At 33, he’s no longer at his best, but he is still capable of playing very high level basketball. He showed that throughout much of the 2022-23 season, putting together an impressive campaign which for a long time went unnoticed, and his two 40+ point explosions against the Celtics were reminders of what he can still do. He might not dominate the stats sheet as often as he used to, but this guy is still a very, very capable player.

2. James Harden and Joel Embiid actually work well together

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Embiid and Harden went AWOL when their season was on the line, hitting eight of their 29 shots in Game 7 and finishing with a combined total of 24 points. It was nowhere near enough, and particularly with Jayson Tatum going bananas at the other end of the floor, was always going to see the Sixers end their season with a blowout defeat.

But that wasn’t the case all year. Part of the reason Harden had such a good season was that he recognized his role as the second fiddle on this team, and was seemingly content working largely to capitalize on his MVP teammates very hefty bag of tricks. Harden’s 14.5 field goal attempts per game this season were his least since 2011-12, while he also averaged 10.7 dimes and a relatively low 3.4 assists. He and Embiid’s pick and roll game is lethal, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. They couldn’t bring it in what turned out to be their final game of the season, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work.

3. This team was one game away from a very winnable Conference Finals

It’s very easy – and unfortunately common in the NBA – to say that if you don’t win, you failed. And sure, it’s elite-level sport, so winning is pretty damn important. But the Sixers made it to within a solitary game of the Eastern Conference Finals with Embiid very much hobbled by injury, and had they made it there they would have been favorites against the Miami Heat.

Giannis Antetokounmpo recently made headlines with his philosophy around failure, and incidentally it was his team that has best highlighted the fine line between pleasure and pain in this league. When his Milwaukee Bucks won the championship in 2021, they were one long Kevin Durant foot away from being eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semis – just like the Sixers were this year. Instead, that Game 7 went to overtime, the Bucks won, and then won the championship.

Everything certainly isn’t perfect in this incarnation of the Sixers, but neither is any team. Contrary to popular belief, winning a championship doesn’t demand perfection. It demands a really good team, execution in pivotal moments, and on occasion a bit of luck. This Sixers team was severely lacking in the second of those this season, but there’s no denying that they are a good team. With another year under Tyrese Maxey’s belt, this team, led by Joel Embiid first, Harden and Maxey second, and with Tobias Harris rounding them out, is certainly capable of challenging again next season.