Will Sixers’ top four stay intact?

Defining 2022-23 Sixers questions: Will top four stay intact through season? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The 2022-23 Sixers will start their season on Sept. 27 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Before training camp begins, we’re looking at questions that will define the team’s season and ultimately determine whether the Sixers advance past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. 

We’ve examined the following so far: 

Next up: Will the Sixers’ top four stay intact through the season? 

Tobias Harris will get wind of whatever rumors swirl.

After the Sixers’ final pre-trade deadline game in February last season, Harris noted he was keeping close tabs on the Twitter accounts of The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, two prolific NBA news breakers.

“For the next couple days, I’ll be refreshing Adrian Wojnarowski tweets and Shams, like everybody else,” Harris said. “Sometimes those guys get it before we’ll get the call. That’s just what happens. I think everybody else is in that same position to be checking their phones to see what happens.”

Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond were ultimately the Sixers dealt at the deadline, while Harris welcomed James Harden and Paul Millsap to Philadelphia. Harris, who turned 30 years old in July and got married in August, is still a Sixer. He’s played more games with the franchise (234) than with any of his previous four teams, and that doesn’t count his 40 playoff outings. Before joining the Sixers, Harris’ only postseason experience came in 2016; LeBron James and the Cavs swept the Pistons in Round 1 on their way to the NBA title.

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If the Sixers’ current “core four” doesn’t finish the year together, Harris appears the likeliest to leave. A Joel Embiid trade would be more stunning than any James Harden off-court drama over the past two years. Anyone exposed to Tyrese Maxey seems to cherish him and believe he’ll keep rising. Maxey will turn 22 years old when the Sixers host the Knicks on Nov. 4.

Meanwhile, the five-year, $180 million contract Harris signed in the summer of 2019 has merited mention whenever a dealmaking season arrives. Harris’ 2022-23 salary of approximately $37.6 million is the Sixers’ highest. 

Harris adjusted admirably after Harden arrived, accepting a role that involved fewer on-ball reps and more catch-and-shoot three-pointers. His ability to handle both perimeter and interior players on defense was also very valuable.

Harris has well-documented flaws; for instance, he took 50 field goals and zero free throws from Game 3 though Game 6 of the Sixers’ second-round series loss to the Heat. But in the end, the Sixers’ four best players and a wing was generally a strong unit post-Harden trade. The top four plus Matisse Thybulle posted a plus-20.3 net rating in the regular season, per Cleaning the Glass. The lineup with Danny Green in Thybulle’s spot had a plus-11.0 net rating in the playoffs. If Harris plays a fourth postseason as a Sixer, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey would surely be pleased with something similar.

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Wherever the Sixers stand, nobody expects Morey to sit in silence at the deadline. He’d made plenty of significant deadline deals before last season, acquiring George Hill in 2021; Robert Covington in 2020; Lou Williams in 2017; Goran Dragić in 2011; Kevin Martin in 2010; Kyle Lowry in 2009.

“Last year we made a trade at the deadline that didn’t quite work, but generally, historically, I personally have a good track record of bringing folks in at the trade deadline,” Morey said during a January interview with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic that focused on his approach to the Simmons saga.

There’s no pressure to part with Simmons this time around, but Morey always explores opportunities to improve his teams and has emphasized that “championship probability” guides his decisions. As usual, fans (and some players, apparently) will be refreshing Twitter in February, curious to see what exactly those decisions are and whether the Embiid-Harden-Maxey-Harris quartet is still around.

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