— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) July 27, 2022
— Daryl MorΞy 🗽🏀 (@dmorey) July 27, 2022
“This is where I want to be. This is where I want to win, and I think we have the pieces to accomplish that goal,” Harden said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “From my first day with the 76ers organization, the team and the fans have helped me feel at home here in Philadelphia. I’m excited to build off of last season and I can’t wait to get out on the court with the guys and start this journey.”
Harden declined his $47.4 million player option, making him a free agent, but he said he told GM Daryl Morey to sign who he needed to make the 76ers a contender, then “give me whatever is left.” That turned out to be a two-year, $68.6 million contract with a player option in the second year. That player option has led to speculation that Morey and Harden had a wink-and-a-nod deal that Harden could opt out in the second year and make a lot of that money back — but the former MVP will have to play at a high enough level to earn that big payday. His 18.6 points, 10.5 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs last season, paired with his poor defense, would not be good enough.
Morey used the extra cap space Harden’s decision gave him well, signing P.J. Tucker, Danuel House, and he traded for De'Anthony Melton. Those players add depth, defense, and shooting the 76ers need to contend with the Celtics and Bucks at the top of the East.
The additions, the championship window and the chance to earn an even larger paycheck put the pressure back on Harden (and, to a lesser degree, Joel Embiid). The next level of his legacy and the level of his next paycheck hang on his play this season, and particularly if he can up his game in the playoffs.