James Harden’s future has been lighting up Philadelphia sports talk lines since the trade deadline. Harden was supposed to exercise the $47.3 million player option for the 2022-23 season, but he fumbled the paperwork. Now he’s set to hit free agency with many questioning whether the 2018 MVP is worth that kind of money.
Sixers president Daryl Morey has an unwavering fondness for Harden stemming from their days together in Houston. Morey’s not-so-secret plan was to lock him up to a max contract in Philly, right? The franchise didn’t give up Ben Simmons for a rental player. But the 10-time All-Star has been showing signs of decline and an early playoff exit could cause the Sixers to think about hitting the reset button.
According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, Harden will definitely be back in Philly next season alongside Joel Embiid. And the Sixers might get him at a bargain rate while trying to sell Harden’s nagging hamstring injury as the reason for his struggles.
“To me, James is going to be back. Daryl [Morey], I don’t know if he’s going to give him everything,” Amick said on the NBA Show podcast. “I think they’re going to tell us that the hamstring is the bigger deal. I just don’t see this ending any other way than them trying this Harden-Embiid duo.
“This is why they did it [the trade], they gave up too much, and you can argue like don’t keep going down that path if it’s not going to work but I would be stunned if this is not their attempt at a little Super Team in Philly after this summer.”
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Bradley Beal? Sixers Eyeing Another Max Player
The Sixers traded for Harden knowing he would take less money, per Amick, and Morey pulled the trigger with that intel. If Harden does indeed shave a few dollars off his next contract, then Morey would be in good shape to add another max player in free agency. (Remember, Washington star Bradley Beal has a player option). Philly could package up Tobias Harris and draft picks in a potential deal.
“I wonder if this makes them any more prone to just doing whatever they can to bring in one more max guy,” said The Athletic’s Fred Katz. “[Harden] could take a little bit less, they have some draft picks left, they could attach them to Tobias Harris. It’s doable if they are desperate enough to get it done.”
Then again, Harden could decide to turn back the clock in Game 2 and get all the money he can from the Sixers. That was the theory floated out by The Athletic’s Anthony Slater during the Harden debate on The NBA Show podcast.
“Go get one in Miami without Joel Embiid,” Slater said. “To me, that is the task.”
Zach LaVine Headlines Other Options This Summer
Beal will be the most sought-after free agent this summer. However, Zach LaVine headlines an impressive class of max players who could interest the Sixers if a Super Team is their end goal. The Chicago Bulls star will be eligible for a five-year, $200 million deal and negotiations are expected to be fierce with Klutch Sports representing him.
Meanwhile, the Sixers could wait and see what happens with restricted free agents like Collin Sexton (Cleveland) or Jalen Brunson (Dallas). Those guys would be cheaper, younger options with a ton of upside.
One more name to watch: Miles Bridges (Charlotte). It seems highly unlikely that Philly would entertain the idea of bringing in Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn) or Russell Westbrook (Los Angeles), not considering their previous relationships with Harden. Otherwise, expect an interesting summer.