Joel Embiid and James Harden have returned, and the 76ers have added reinforcements.

The Philadelphia 76ers traded Al Horford and Josh Richardson for Seth Curry and Danny Green on draft night in 2020, just weeks after naming Daryl Morey team president. Morey said the theme of the night was fit, and that the Sixers’ spacing around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons was “actually insane.”

What a novel concept! The Sixers’ starting lineup was dominant in 2020-21 as a result of these trades, just as it had been in 2018-19 and 2017-18. They finished first in the East during the regular season before falling to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.The Philadelphia 76ers traded Al Horford and Josh Richardson for Seth Curry and Danny Green on draft night in 2020, just weeks after naming Daryl Morey team president. Morey said the theme of the night was fit, and that the Sixers’ spacing around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons was “actually insane.”

Philadelphia couldn’t avoid another demoralizing and disappointing second-round loss, which would necessitate another Very Normal and Good Offseason.

Morey came through. P.J. Tucker was signed months after Embiid lamented that the Sixers needed players like him. They also signed forward Danuel House and big man Montrezl Harrell and traded Green, who tore his ACL and LCL in the final game of the season, for De’Anthony Melton.

What a novel concept, defensive versatility! The front office has positioned the team to be elite on both ends, assuming Harden, 33, can overcome his hamstring issues and Tucker, 37, can continue to hold his own against Father Time.

Melton provides the Sixers with a top-tier point-of-attack defender as well as much-needed transition speed. Even if Matisse Thybulle can’t stay on the floor, they’ll have some athleticism on the wing with him and House, a 3-and-D-and-a-bit-more guy. As a roll man and offensive rebounder, Harrell will dominate against bench units.

Tucker will hound opposing stars, camp out in the corner, assist on the glass, and, ideally, do everything he did in Miami. He’s also far and away Philadelphia’s best small ball 5 option.

The Sixers believe that Embiid and Harden can be their best selves when they play together. They believe Maxey and Harden can hold their own defensively against championship-caliber opposition. They’re betting that Tobias Harris will thrive as an overqualified fourth option, that the new guys will hit enough 3s in the playoffs, and that they’ll be able to make an in-season trade if necessary. Whatever happens, they’ve put together a team that makes sense.

The discussion

Sixers believer: Daryl Morey appears to have supercharged the 2019 Rockets. James Harden and P.J. Tucker should never have been separated, and in 3-on-3, I’d take Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid over Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and Clint Capela. By the way, that Houston team won 65 games and was one turned ankle away from a championship. I believe this will be the best Philly team in 40 years, and I hope that everyone who slammed Harden last season is ready to apologize.

Sixers skeptic: The Houston comparison is easy to make because Morey brought in a slew of players with Rockets ties, but it doesn’t hold up. It’s not just that Harden is 33 and Tucker is 37; it’s also that those Rockets were designed in a specific way: Harden, Paul, and Eric Gordon made all the plays, and everyone else was either a 3-and-D guy or, in Capela’s case, a mobile, lob-catching big. The Sixers are closer to that type of construction than they were last year, but you can’t switch as easily with Embiid and Maxey on the court, and I’m not sure Doc Rivers will play Tucker at all.

Sixers believer: I never said the rosters were identical. I think I like this one better. The Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll is unsuitable, and Doc will be able to play big or small depending on the situation in the playoffs. Melton, House, Tucker, and Harrell are all excellent players. Get pumped!

Sixers skeptic:They are useful reinforcements. I’m confident Harrell will look fantastic during the regular season. But suppose they face Boston in the playoffs; remember how Robert Williams III guarded Tucker in the conference finals? Melton and House are far better shooters than Matisse Thybulle, but they don’t frighten anyone, so I’m not sure about the spacing. The main issue is that Harden and Maxey continue to share the backcourt. The way the Heat attacked them a few months ago is what scares me.

Sixers believer: Are you referring to the Heat series in which Embiid missed the first two games and was not himself when he returned? I’m not concerned about anything that occurred there. And here’s the deal with the Celtics: Nobody’s spacing looks particularly good against them. The Warriors figured out that forcing the Bigs to guard multiple actions on the perimeter was their best bet, but even they were far below their normal efficiency. My point is simple; the Sixers are far superior in terms of switching and shooting. They have options if Thybulle can’t hang offensively or Georges Niang can’t hang defensively.

They could even trade those players for another two-way player if Morey makes a win-now move before the deadline.

Sixers skeptic: That win-now move had better be more significant than the George Hill trade of 2021. And, unless it’s a game-changer, you can’t just point to Embiid’s injured face and dismiss this team’s biggest structural flaw. Assuming Harden regains his burst and avoids another injury – I’ll believe it when I see it – Philly has the potential to be a fantastic regular-season team. Even if they are the top seed in the East, as they were in 2020, they will almost certainly collapse in the playoffs for the third year in a row.I don’t trust Harden late in a close series, I don’t trust Maxey on defense, and I don’t think Tobias Harris will be satisfied with a glorified 3-and-D role. You may have forgotten that House and Harrell were DNP-CDs in the playoffs in recent seasons, but you must remember that Melton was DNP-CD just a few months ago!

Sixers believers: You’ve lost the plot. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Sixers were fifth in halfcourt offense and eighth in halfcourt defense from Harden’s debut until the end of last season, but they didn’t force many turnovers, rarely grabbed offensive rebounds, and were terrible in transition on both ends. They’ll be better in every single one of those areas this season. They’re more agile, tougher, deeper, athletic, and versatile. I’ve been yelling for a viable small-ball big for the last five years, so I might cry when I see Tucker at the 5. What else did you expect Morey to do?

Sixers skeptic: I was hoping Harris and Thybulle would be gone by now. Morey has a 2029 first-round pick to trade, and while this may be sacrilege to some, if I were in his shoes, I’d have moved Maxey for a star winger. When Kevin Durant rumors were circulating, for example, I was all for doing whatever it took to get him. But I see what you’re saying. Everything Morey did makes perfect sense, and the team will almost certainly be a little better on both ends with a full season of Harden and an improved supporting cast. I just don’t believe this story will end differently this time.

Sixers believer:This is the most frustrating aspect of discussing this team. I could go on and on about how Harden and Embiid will only get better together, Maxey is on the verge of stardom, Harris has embraced his role, and the rest of the roster makes a lot more sense, but that’s never enough for the people who are convinced that the Sixers will make the playoffs, then remember that they’re the Sixers and immediately Sixers themselves into another strange, sad, Sixers-y shellacking. Any other team with an MVP-calibercenter, one of the best playmakers in NBA history, and this kind of talent would be regarded as a legitimate title contender, not a ticking time bomb.

Sixers skeptic: While the Sixers could completely collapse again, my main concern is not their inherent Sixers-ness. The Celtics, Clippers, Warriors, and Bucks all have to startlineups that are better suited to playoff basketball than Philadelphia’s starting five. If the Nets and Nuggets stay healthy, I believe they have a better chance of winning the NBA title than the Sixers. I’m interested to see what Morey does at the deadline, and I’m not saying Harden is cooked or anything. There’s nothing wrong with being a long shot.

Trevelin Queen is a mystery.

Another newcomer with Rockets ties: Trevelin Queen, a 6-foot-6 wing, was named the 2021-22 G League MVP.

Last season, Queen only made 34.2 percent of his 3s, but he attempted a ton of them, some of them off the dribble and contested. He’s an explosive athlete with 3-and-D potential, which is exactly the type of player this team has always needed but often lacked. It’s worth a shot.

One more thing

Embiid said the following during media day, according to CBS Sports’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain: “Our priority is defense. We want to be the league’s best defensive team. That will require all of us. I need to get back to not being that guy in the fourth quarter.”

Look at that responsibility! As good as Embiid was offensively last season, his defensive effort was often lacking early in games. This season, he finds himself in a better environment with less offensive pressure and better defenders surrounding him. Remember his quote if the Sixers have the best defense in the league.