Report: James Harden expected to opt in, stay with 76ers on short-term contract extension

76ers star James Harden
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James Harden said he’d stay in Philadelphia. But the 76ers reportedly won’t offer him a max contract.

What will give?

Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report:

all signs point toward All-Star guard James Harden returning to the Philadelphia 76ers on a shorter-term contract extension, league sources told B/R.

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.

In any scenario, Harden is expected to pick up his player option for the 2022-23 season, sources said

I wonder what Harden and the 76ers consider the foreseeable future. Harden just stated his commitment to the Nets, reportedly even telling Kevin Durant he’d sign a contract extension, then forced a trade to Philadelphia few months later. After sounding over the moon about acquiring Harden in February, the 76ers no longer want to give him a full-length max deal.

Yet, Harden and Philadelphia are too far down the road with each other to simply turn back now.

A shorter deal would limit the 76ers’ liability, though allow the recent star to leave sooner. For Harden, he could seek another contract when his stock might be higher. But he’s 32. He certainly can’t count on a max offer in a couple years.

He can count on his $47,366,760 player option for next season if he chooses to exercise it. That’s more than his max salary as a free agent, and it’s not assured the 76ers or another team would offer that much, anyway. So, opting in makes sense for Harden.

However, opting in would limit options.

If he opts in, which he must do by June 29, Harden would be locked into that $47,366,760 salary for next season. He could no longer take a discount for next season. If they want to trade other players and have Harden take a pay cut to open cap space, the 76ers must act quickly.

Once he opts in, Harden would be limited to a $49,735,098 salary in the first year of an extension (which would begin in 2023-24). If he signs an extension before Aug. 10, annual raises on the extension would be limited to 5% of that 2023-24 salary. If he signs the extension after Aug. 10, raises could be for up to 8%. Of course, Philadelphia might not offer those max amounts, anyway. So, extension-timing issues could be moot.

There’s still plenty to learn about the size of Harden’s next deal and what it will mean for the 76ers. But a picture is emerging, and it’ll crystalize further if Harden follows through with exercising his player option in the next couple weeks.