James Harden’s tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start, but the honeymoon period was fleeting and ultimately his first season in Philly ended in an all-too familiar disappointing second round exit — with Harden’s struggles at the center of the conversation this time around.
Entering this offseason, the Sixers were once again faced with questions about their ability to be real contenders with their team as currently constructed. After Harden failed to pick up his $47 million player option in time after he was traded to Philly, he had initially indicated he still planned on tacking that year on before the deadline this summer, but recently there’s been buzz that a longer term extension — at a lesser annual figure — was expected to get worked out between the Sixers and Harden.
As Wednesday’s 5 p.m. ET deadline arrived, a new deal was not in place just yet but Harden still declined to pick up his option, with rumblings that this was the plan to give Philadelphia added flexibility to sign free agents and then bring Harden back on a new deal.
Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden is declining his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season and intends to return on a contract in free agency that gives the team financial flexibility to bolster the roster, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 29, 2022
ESPN Sources: 76ers star James Harden has declined his $47.3M option and become a free agent. He keeps real the possibility of negotiating a new deal that would deliver the Sixers roster-building flexibility in free agency – including use of the full $10.5M exception.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 29, 2022
This could be a way for the Sixers to add PJ Tucker on the reported 3-year, $30 million deal they want to offer without having to move Matisse Thybulle in a trade first, sliding Tucker into the full mid-level. The relationship between Harden and Daryl Morey goes a long way in this kind of situation, as it’s rare for a player and executive to have the level of trust in each other not to screw the other in a plan like this, but if they can pull it off, Harden’s willingness to take a little less money might be huge in the Sixers chances of making meaningful upgrades to the roster.
As for what that new deal looks like, Zach Lowe reports that if the Sixers use the full mid-level and the bi-annual exception ($4.5 million), they can start Harden’s new deal at $35-38 million.
PHI using both the full mid-level and biannual exceptions on free agents would peg Harden’s starting salary somewhere around $35M-$38M depending on exactly where apron falls/how much room PHI wants to preserve beneath, a couple of other small variables https://t.co/OUgbqlQKwD
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 29, 2022