Heading into this offseason, the biggest question for the Philadelphia 76ers was what to do with James Harden. After acquiring the former MVP in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks, he has the option to become an unrestricted free agent.
Whether it’s on his $47 million player option or a new contract, Harden made it clear he intends to remain in Philadelphia. Many around the league were waiting to see what type of deal Daryl Morey was going to offer the All-Star guard, and it does not appear he will be getting a max contract. In a recent article for Bleacher Report, Jake Fischer reported the Sixers and Harden are working on a short-term deal to keep him in Philadelphia.
Harden and Sixers leadership are aligned on one clear directive, sources said: The franchise’s best opportunity to compete for a championship starring Joel Embiid, as well as Harden’s optimal opportunity to earn his first NBA ring, resides with Harden playing in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.
After being acquired by the Sixers at the trade deadline, Harden averaged 21.0 PPG, 10.5 APG, and 7.1 RPG across 21 regular-season games.
Sixers Reluctant to Offer Harden Long-Term Deal
While Harden has proven he can still be a high-impact player, father time is undefeated. At 32 years old, he is on the wrong end of his prime. Not to mention, the wear and tear of a long career was evident at times in his play.
Being in his mid-thirties, offering a five-year max contract would be a big gamble for the Sixers. If both sides agreed on the $250 million super-max Harden is eligible for, they’d be on the hook to pay him north of $50 million at the age of 37. Because of where he’s at in his career, the Sixers have been wary of giving him the full max.
Sixers ownership, though, has been resistant to the idea of giving Harden a full four-year maximum contract extension beyond his 2022-23 option season, sources told B/R, or the five-year deal that Harden would be eligible for if he chose to decline his $47.4 million player option for next season. Signing perhaps a two-year extension after his option season to create a new three-year framework would also provide Harden with greater optionality for his own career.
Keeping Their Options Open
If the Sixers can retain Harden at a team-friendly price tag, it should be considered a victory. They traded for him with the intention of pairing him alongside Joel Embiid for his prime, and signing a short-term deal allows them multiple shots at a championship run.
The biggest thing the Sixers get with a shorter contract is optionality. While point guards have proven to age gracefully, anything can happen. Signing a 2-3 year deal potentially saves them from having to pay a large sum to a player who can’t be a key contributor anymore.
For Harden, staying in Philadelphia is still his best option. Not only is he flanked by a perennial MVP candidate in Embiid, but an up-and-coming guard that has developed rapidly in Tyrese Maxey. Pair that with Daryl Morey’s never-ending desire to build a contender, and the Sixers are Harden’s best option to secure the championship ring that has eluded him so far in his career.