How the Sixers Should Handle the Looming James Harden Contract

76ers Raptors Basketball
Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) drives to the net under pressure from Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Toronto, Thursday, April 28, 2022. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Despite the promise following the blockbuster James Harden trade, the Sixers failed to get past the second round of the playoffs once again. It is quite clear the roster surrounding Embiid and Harden was not good enough to truly compete. The veteran guard also brought on some legitimate concerns about how much he has left in the tank with his playoff performance. It is unclear how long the window will be open for the Sixers’ current superstar — Joel Embiid. Philly has an incredibly important offseason ahead and must be sure to capitalize.

This past offseason Daryl Morey was held hostage by the Ben Simmons situation, which carried into the regular season. He ultimately solved this by flipping the former number one overall pick for James Harden. The Beard became the centerpiece of a Daryl Morey deal once again, and he was able to land his white whale- this time in Philadelphia. As great as the initial feeling was and the first few games looked, Harden now is the centerpiece of the biggest question mark of the offseason

The James Harden contract situation is far from the only issue that needs to be addressed this offseason. However, how it is handled will have effects that carry down to the rest of their offseason options. It is clear James Harden is not quite the second star the Sixers were in search of, but less clear whether or not he will be paid to be one.

Current Contract Options the Sixers Could Offer Harden:

It was no secret that James Harden was in the final deal when Morey and the Sixers landed him. Both sides have been very open with their long-term goals of remaining together despite this. The question does not seem to be if Harden will stay but rather what the price will be.

The 32-year-old is eligible for a max contract similar to the one he has been on leading up to this point. Harden earned roughly $44.3 million this past season and could sign a five-year max contract worth a total of $269.9 million. He also could opt into a $47.4 million option for next season, which would make some sense for both sides. This would also make him eligible for a four-year $223 million deal following this decision. Signing on to pay a 37-year-old James Harden north of $60 million in a season would prove disastrous for the franchise, especially considering the amount of decline he has already shown.

When the trade was made for James Harden, the Sixers were set to be married to the former MVP. After half a season together, it may not be the worst thing if the Sixers are getting cold feet.

The intention is certainly for him to return, but the Sixers have a complex salary cap dance they must partake in. James Harden has said he is willing to take less money to help the team, but it is much easier to say this without the contract in front of him. Opting into the $47.4 million player option would give both sides another year to evaluate their relationship and likely the most money Harden would get. If he believes he can get healthier this offseason and come back with more burst in his step, this is a move that would make a lot of sense for the 32-year-old.

The number may still be more than most hope for, but a determined James Harden trying to prove he has more in the tank would be intriguing to see. The best version of James Harden is exactly what the Sixers are missing, but no one should hold their breath that he is still capable of being this. If it comes down to a max contract or allowing Harden to walk, the Sixers would be wise to choose the ladder.

While the lingering hamstring issues certainly played some sort of factor, the decline of the 32-year-old has been obvious. Harden averaged 18.6 points, 8.6 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.2 turnovers in the postseason. He scored fewer points in the second half of the elimination game than Ben Simmons did in the fateful Hawks meltdown. He also shot a career-worst three-point percentage (32.6%) and lay-up percentage (49%) in his time with Philadelphia. Harden was able to get past his defenders when driving to the basket just 29% of the time last season. His previous low in this category was 44%.

The Sixers should absolutely still do their best to bring back James Harden. While he is not the same player he once was, he is still incredibly useful on the floor. He has one of the highest basketball IQs of any player in the league, is lethal in the pick-and-roll with Joel Embiid, and still carries a massive gravity in the halfcourt. Harden is a great pairing with Embiid even at this stage of his career.

If Harden truly is willing to take less money and accept a team-friendly deal, this would be a massive win for the Sixers. There have been swirling rumors of his willingness to do this in an attempt to open up a third max slot for the Sixers. This would also have to involve trading Tobias Harris and would require Harden to take a notable step back in pay. If he swallows his pride and accepts this for the better of the team, Harden deserves a ton of credit.

It will be interesting to watch the negotiations play out. Bringing back James Harden is no longer the cut-and-dry decision it was expected to be. His passing ability and well-rounded game have undoubtedly opened up the Sixers’ offense in a greater fashion. It is difficult to expect a team to fully click with such a short time together, so there is optimism for improvement going forward. Regardless, how his contract is dealt with will have major implications on how the rest of the roster will be managed. All eyes will be on Daryl Morey to see how this ends up being finalized.