Four key questions for Sixers heading into an earlier-than-expected offseason

In the wake of Thursday night's season-ending 99-90 loss to the Heat, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and the 76ers have some areas that need to be addressed if they plan on reaching the Eastern Conference finals next year for the first time since 2001.

Here are some of the key questions facing the Sixers:

What to do about James Harden?

Harden is likely to pick up his $47.4 million player option for 2022-23. He's also eligible for a four-year extension worth $223 million, though Harden's transition from an elite scorer to a pass-first point guard at the age of 32 suggests he's not worth anything close to that amount or length of contract.

The most logical solution would be to let Harden play next season after going through training camp and the preseason and see how he and the Sixers do. If his hamstring issue improves and he can regain some of the explosiveness he's lost, Harden could be worth an extension.

Asked after the Game 6 defeat if he'd be willing to accept less than a max extension, Harden replied, "Whatever it takes. ... I'll be here."

How do they get tougher?

The Sixers' lack of a physical presence and grit was obvious in the 4-2 playoff defeat to Miami. Heat power forward P.J. Tucker seemed to get every loose ball and offensive rebound he pursued.

Still not good enough:Lack of toughness costs Sixers in season-ending loss

No margin for error: Sixers' season on the brink after flat Game 5 defeat

With $118.6 million going to three players — Harden ($47.4 million), Tobias Harris ($37.6M) and Joel Embiid ($33.6 million), assuming Harden chooses his option — the Sixers will have to upgrade the roster via trades and the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6.3 million), a trade exception for Andre Drummond ($1.6 million) and minimum deals. They don't have a 2022 first-round pick after sending it to the Nets in the Harden/Ben Simmons trade.

What about improving bench, 5th starter?

With 34-year-old Danny Green, who the Sixers have a $10 million option on, having a torn ACL and LCL and Matisse Thybulle still an offensive liability, the wing position is the weakest link in the starting lineup. Unless somebody is willing to come here for under market value, there's no obvious solution to filling the numerous holes on the second unit. Furkan Korkmaz and Georges Niang don't appear to be the answers.

"I think we've had good success (finding minimum-salary players)," Morey said Friday. "I find that to be one of the best parts of the job — once you got your main guys in place, which we do, finding the guys who can fit in. We need to do a better job, but that is the job. That's part of why I love being in basketball."

Could Morey trade Harris?

Harris has made himself into a two-way player by improving his man-to-man defense, plus he's relatively consistent and reliable. Owed $76.9 million over the next two seasons, Harris is not a max player or offensive closer, though.

Sixers fans want Morey to swap Harris for Washington shooting guard Bradley Beal, but it'd take more than Harris to land Beal and the Sixers don't have a lot of other players with value not named Tyrese Maxey, who they don't want to move, and cannot trade a first-round pick ahead of the draft until 2029. Even if they could somehow secure Beal, playing the 6-foot-2 Maxey with 6-3 Beal and 6-5 Harden would make them extremely small and they'd have an opening at power forward.

It's unclear how much value Thybulle, a solid defender who is an offensive liability, has around the league, but he shouldn't be untradeable.

Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes; @TomMoorePhilly

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Four key questions for Sixers heading into an earlier-than-expected offseason