By DAN GELSTON AP Sports Writer

Therese Maxi spent the summer touring worthy of rock bands.

He appeared in gyms, high schools, California, Texas, and even at Phillies and Union MLS games. comfort? Not much of it. Maxi burned the fuse to the point where the 76ers coaching staff considered interference.

Take a break, Tae.

His response: Thanks, but no thanks.

Joel Embiid and James Harden are the two super-paid players expected to move Philadelphia into contention for the championship in coach Doc Rivers’ third season. But the 6-foot-2 Maxi is trying to make his way into all-star talk and possibly make a real 3 Big with his more famous “big siblings” (as Embiid and Harden call him). His cheerful attitude, wide smile, and fan affection have made him one of Philadelphia’s most popular athletes in less than three seasons. His 17.5 points last season and post-season success — carrying the team when Embiid was injured — made him one of the most important gears in the Sixers as they attempt to win their first NBA title since 1983.

James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers gestures during the first half of Game 3 of the team’s second-round NBA basketball series against the Miami Heat, May 6, 2022, in Philadelphia.AP Photo / Matt Slocum, File

But Maxi played down his importance in the squad.

“Doc said something in the locker room recently, ‘This is us season, not me season,'” Maxi said. “This season is going to be all about us as a group.”

The group is not bad. Well, at least five rookies can rival the best in the NBA with Embiid, Harden, Maxey, Holdover Tobias Harris and veteran pickup PJ Tucker. Embiid is the NBA champion – and new American citizen – and Harden is trying to prove the hamstring injuries that have hampered his effectiveness in 21 regular season games with the Sixers behind him.

Maxey used pre-season as a showcase for his summer business – his mantra gets 1% better every day. Shot ratios grow at a faster rate. He shot 79% during his first three preseason games and hit three three-pointers in a game against Cleveland.

“I’m not really worried about the individual awards,” Maxi said. “One of the main things I really focused on was trying to become a better leader. I feel like I have that character where I always smile, I am always happy. I work hard. I try to push my teammates. I try to push them all the time.”

It’s Maxey’s push that could push the Sixers to the NBA Championship.

hardness of hope

Harden took a nearly $14 million salary cut when he turned down a $47.4 million option for the season and signed a new two-year deal that will earn him $33 million this season. Harden said he turned down the option so the Sixers could use the extra money to sign free agents. The Sixers did — and the NBA launched an ongoing investigation into the tampering with Harden’s decision and the transactions that followed.

The 33-year-old is starting his first full season with the 76ers. The 10-time All-Star said he has come out of the “hard times, a lot of dark moments” that have plagued him in the last two seasons as he has dealt with injuries.

He’s lost weight – joked 100 pounds – and appears to be in better shape for much of the season.

“I feel like this is my first year,” Harden said.

stacked table

The Sixers didn’t have anything easy to start the season with. The Sixers opened the season Tuesday in Boston and then returned to Philadelphia for their opening game at home against Milwaukee on Thursday. The Sixers also get a Christmas game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. The Sixers can only hope that they will pace their 50th win as they head into March. The Sixers open the month with five straight games on the road in Miami, Dallas, Milwaukee, Indiana and Minnesota. The Sixers play 17 games in March.

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