Report: James Harden takes pay cut, gives 76ers cap flexibility

March 23, 2022, Los Angeles, California, USA: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers puts up a layup during their NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday March 23, 2022 at Arena in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PI/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire) ****NO AGENTS—NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

The 47.4 million dollar question the Philadelphia 76ers have been faced with all offseason has been what to do with James Harden. The previous offseason was overshadowed by the Ben Simmons drama, which extended well into the regular season. The situation was ultimately settled by flipping Simmons for James Harden right at the trade deadline.

While James Harden did not prove to be the MVP caliber he once was, the 33-year-old still was an incredibly useful player who fit well alongside Sixers’ superstar Joel Embiid. After just 33 games with the team across the regular season and playoffs, the two sides were faced with a difficult decision. The debate was never if James Harden would be back with the Sixers but rather at what price. Harden and Daryl Morey have both spoken openly about their desire for the point guard to remain in Philadelphia since he initially arrived.

Heading into the twilight of his career, it was seemingly a lock that Harden would opt-in to his $47 million option, which is almost certainly the largest contract he will ever receive. Harden even stated that he intended to opt-in when he first got to Philadelphia and simply forgot to submit the paperwork. As the deadline approached, it was clear that Harden and Morey may have had other plans, and this was confirmed as the deadline for him to accept the option passed.

What this means for the Philadelphia 76ers

The decision to take less money is extremely impactful on the Sixers’ offseason outlook. It is clear there are numerous holes on the current Sixers roster that were exposed in the playoffs last year. While James Harden drew quite a bit of criticism, the fact of the matter is the Sixers’ complimentary pieces were not championship caliber. The financial flexibility that will be unlocked by the decision by Harden will certainly go toward improving these players.

The Sixers are still going to be tight against the salary cap even with the Harden opt-out. However, his decision to take less money opens up some valuable avenues for the Sixers to add more talent. The salary cap flexibility makes the addition of P.J. Tucker virtually a certainty, as has been expressed around NBA circles for several days. The team also has a chance to improve their wing depth and add some low-level but high-impact free agents. The Sixers bench has been an issue for several years, and fixing it up would increase their title chances much more than people give it credit for.

What this means for James Harden

This is also an awesome sign of what James Harden’s intentions truly are. He has claimed that his biggest focus on winning, and now he put his money where his mouth was. Passing up on the player options gives the Sixers a much better chance at building a championship-caliber roster which Morey is already hard at work on.

James Harden may not be the superstar he once was, but he is still an incredibly useful player to have on the court. While people talk down of Harden often, the fact of the matter is he averaged 21 points, 10.5 assists, and 7.1 rebounds during the second half of the season with the Sixers. Harden is the highest-level passer that Joel Embiid has ever played with, and their pick-and-roll combo play was one of the most dominant means of scoring across the entire NBA. The self-awareness to realize he is no longer a Grade A superstar and the willingness to take the payout to match this should not go unnoticed.

Why this is a massive win

The championship window for the Sixers is open at this very moment. Joel Embiid has been arguably the best player in basketball these past two seasons, and the Sixers cannot afford to let another year go to waste. This is a crucial offseason where Daryl Morey will look to build the proper roster to surround Joel Embiid. The failure to do so has crippled the Sixers in past years, and the franchise no longer has much time to waste.

The official numbers for Harden’s contract have yet to be released, but it is clear he is operating with the team’s best interests in mind. Expect some additional changes to take place this offseason as the Sixers look to finally break that Conference Semi-Final Playoff barrier.