James Harden picks up option, working with 76ers on trade

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Harden Sixers
FILE -Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) calls to teammates during the first half of Game 5 against the Boston Celtics in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Boston. James Harden might have side-eyed questions, much like he did in a playful reaction to a question in his Houston days, about his future with the Philadelphia 76ers. Will Harden return to the 76ers for a third season? (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

In a stunning turn of events, Philadephia 76ers star James Harden has accepted his $35.6 million player option. Even more shocking, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, this news comes with word that Harden and the Sixers are expected to work together to explore trade options for the 10-time All-Star.

For months speculation ran rampant regarding Harden’s future with a return to either the Houston Rockets or the Philadelphia 76ers. While some had speculated the idea of a potential opt-in-and-trade, Ramona Shelburne, in particular, mentioned a deal with the Phoenix Suns before they traded for Bradley Beal, the idea had not gained enough traction to be at the forefront of expectation.

Who are the players for James Harden?

Shortly after the news broke of the intention of Harden and the Sixers, a flurry of NBA Insiders suggested that the Los Angeles Clippers could be a likely landing spot.

James Harden
Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) defends against Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

According to Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer, the Clippers and Sixers have been in contact this past week as the Clippers have continued to discuss trading Marcus Morris and Norm Powell. According to Fischer, they “have approached Philadelphia on separate ideas of trading for James Harden and Tobias Harris.”

In addition to the Clippers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggested that the New York Knicks are another team to watch in potential Harden talks. Forbes Evan Sidery also listed the Phoenix Suns as a team to “keep an eye on,” echoing the thoughts of Ramona Shelburne.

One team notably absent from the conversation is the Houston Rockets, who seem to have firmly passed on their former franchise player. Had the Rockets truly had an interest in a reunion, or at least one that coincides with Harden’s terms, they likely would have signed him outright with a portion of their $64 million in salary cap space.

Are the Sixers in a rush to deal Harden?

One interesting perspective comes from NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark, who stated, “I’m told Sixers will consider trade options involving James Harden but any trade would have to be in their best interest.” Clark continued, “I’m told James opted in to preserve his ability to contend for a title with Sixers or another team.”

James Harden
Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden (1) greets fans after Game 4 in an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, May 7, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It’s a curious thought, that being the Sixers retaining Harden potentially even into the season. On the one hand, the Sixers and James Harden were quite an effective regular-season pairing; there’s clear and obvious history between Harden and Sixers’ president Daryl Morey, and the Sixers arguably offer Harden his best chance at a title. On the other, it wouldn’t be difficult to reason that the Sixers are merely attempting to secure as much leverage as possible by claiming to be satisfied in holding onto Harden.

It’s likely the team is in no rush to trade Harden, but it would be surprising at this point to see him in a Sixers uniform come the end of the year.

One final point for those who felt Harden should not be resigned but were convinced that the Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations was blind to his longtime player. It may be time to give Daryl Morey his flowers for resisting temptation, though that should certainly wait until the end results are known.