Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Sources: James Harden is taking a $15 million paycut for next season that allowed Philadelphia to elevate roster — with sole focus on a championship run in 2023. Harden opted out of his $47M player option and now plans to sign a new two-year deal with a player option in Year 2.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 8, 2022
The baseline for Harden’s $15 million pay cut is unclear. Harden’s salary last season was $44,310,840. His player-option salary would’ve been $47,366,760. His max salary once he became a free agent is $46,526,382.
But the 76ers reportedly weren’t going to offer Harden a max contract. So, though this is framed as Harden acting altruistically, the team had a say in Harden getting less.
That said, Harden could’ve exercised his player option, maximized his earnings next season and limited Philadelphia’s ability to upgrade its roster. Harden instead taking a lower salary allowed the 76ers to sign P.J. Tucker for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which triggered the hard cap), sign Danuel House and trade for De'Anthony Melton without exceeding the hard cap. The supporting cast around Joel Embiid and Harden now looks far better.
Harden has already gotten something in exchange for opting out and reducing his 2022-23 salary – more total compensation. The 2023-24 player option provides multi-year security he previously lacked.
I wonder whether Harden has an even larger windfall coming. It wouldn’t be shocking if Harden and Philadelphia already have an arrangement for him to opt out and re-sign for a bigger contract next summer.
Coming off a down postseason, Harden is at least giving himself a chance to rebuild his stock before locking in long-term. He might be able to more easily command the max next offseason (though perhaps he could’ve this offseason, albeit at the expense of the rest of the roster).
Harden bouncing back will be paramount to the 76ers achieving their championship goals. The upgraded supporting cast he’s affording Philadelphia is nice. But Harden playing better and Embiid staying healthier in the playoffs are essential.