James Harden's first few months with the Philadelphia 76ers didn't really go as planned. Harden didn't look like his usual self for the Sixers and sometimes struggled to integrate himself into their offense. Harden's inability to make his mark in his first stint with the 76ers resulted in them getting bounced by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, which was well short of their championship aspirations that set in once they acquired Harden.
Harden is working hard on regaining his explosiveness
It wasn't hard to see that Harden didn't look like himself once he joined the 76ers. He was very passive and struggled to create looks or even hit those looks that he found himself with. As the 76ers struggled in the playoffs, it was worth wondering whether Harden would even stay in Philadelphia past the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
Harden quickly put those rumors to rest by signing a two-year, $68.64 million deal with the 76ers this offseason. Since then, Harden has seemed intent on doing whatever he can to make sure he plays like his old self for Philly this season.
A big part of that involves regaining his explosiveness, which was sapped by a hamstring injury that Harden suffered in the 2021 NBA Playoffs with the Brooklyn Nets. Harden has been focused on getting that explosiveness back before the start of the upcoming season, and while he doesn't think he's there yet, it sounds like he's in a better spot than he was towards the end of the previous campaign.
"Everything is basically a fresh start and a fresh canvas. It's getting there. We're playing with a full training camp. So there's times and periods that you have dead legs or rough legs. But those are the times when you've just got to push through it, those character things like that." - James Harden, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Harden's health could be the key to the 76ers' 2022-23 season
Harden's swift return from a hamstring injury in the 2021 NBA Playoffs plagued him last season, and it never looked like he fully recovered last season. Hopefully, with a full offseason of rest and rehabilitation, Harden will be his normal self by the time the season starts.
For the most part, it sounds like Harden's health is in a good spot, and that's music to the ears of everyone working in the 76ers organization and their fans. Harden will have to play much better than he did last season for Philly if they want to make a championship run this season. How well he plays could determine how far the 76ers go this season or how big of a disappointment their season is.
The 76ers aren't going to need Harden to do it all on his own, considering they have another star in Joel Embiid on their roster and solid secondary players such as Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris behind him. But Harden is going to be the difference between winning and losing this season, and whether or not he can use his improved explosiveness to put together a bounce-back campaign for the Sixers is one of the biggest storylines surrounding the team as they prepare for the upcoming season.