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James Harden not expected to make Sixers debut this weekend, more on contract status

Plus more on The Beard’s contract for next season.

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Sixers fans who were hoping that James Harden’s hamstring tightness might “magically” resolve when he arrived in Philadelphia will have to wait a bit.

Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice had it first:

Harden is set to arrive in Philly over the weekend, that’s when he should meet with Sixers’ staff and performance team to form a more concrete plan. So he won’t be available for upcoming home games vs. the Thunder or Cavaliers.

But there’s been some eye squinting on this topic in the national media:

For a bit of background, the 10-time All-Star has not played since his four-point, 2-of-11 performance (on the second game of a back-to-back) in Sacramento. Nets coach Steve Nash said Harden “reported” feeling some tightness following the Jan. 25 contest, when the Brooklyn Nets played the Los Angeles Lakers.

The step-back king would miss the next game vs. Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets with that issue. Then he missed the following game with a right “hand strain.” At one point the three-time scoring champ said he couldn’t move the hand well enough to play in a game vs. the Warriors. It was something he first noticed weeks prior.

Then he played in two more games before we learned the hamstring was still bothering him. And finally, he missed the team’s next three games before the trade went down.

For what it’s worth, this is not the right hamstring Harden injured last spring. That issue last season was relatively minor at first but in part, because he tried to push his return, it turned into a grade two strain over time.

During Harden’s final days in Brooklyn, Coach Nash mentioned that past experience motivating them all to be even more cautious this time around.

“The scan is pretty good but there’s a strain — there’s a tightness, sorry, not a strain, a tightness and a strength deficit,” Nash said last Sunday. “So, honestly, we just don’t want to take any chances. We know last year we lost him for an extended period. We want to be conservative, make sure he resumes full strength so that there isn’t an extended absence.”

A Liberty Ballers source indicates that this is the main reason Harden has missed some time, preferring to be conservative with the hamstring issue, with his focus on the playoffs; not that he was simply looking to swing a trade.

Multiple sources have confirmed Neubeck’s update that Harden won’t play this weekend. A source indicates Harden may even sit through the team’s remaining four games before All-Star Break. If that were to be the case, it would mean the 2018 MVP would have the chance to build his strength back and alleviate lingering tightness over a three-week window.

[Update: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski appeared on a tv segment and added a bit more on that. Per Woj:

“Philadelphia they’re giving indications that he’s not going to play perhaps as soon as this weekend, but he’ll get with the team, he’ll start practicing, and wouldn’t be a surprise if James Harden is back on the court maybe even before the All-Star break here which is certainly coming up.”

Sounds like that’s relatively fluid and will depend how Harden progresses during those practices next week.]

Nets coach Steve Nash had indicated recently there was a “strength deficit” left to resolve, more context here.

Harden has had MRI’s on both the right hand and the left hamstring in the weeks before his Nets tenure came to an end.

For those wondering if he just wanted to be traded, there’s good news and bad news. The good news: it sounds like he didn’t “quit” on the Nets, as Brian Windhorst hinted, citing his poor showing vs. the Kings. An ESPN report from Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne cited “an MRI [last weekend] confirmed there was tightness.” The team perhaps keeping him out another few games further contradicts the “he just faked something,” conspiracy.

The bad news: Harden may not be 100 percent healthy just yet. Harden is a “gamer” to borrow a phrase from SNY’s Ian Begley, who covered the seven-time All-NBA team member last season. If The Beard can play, he wants to be out there. He’s not unlike Joel Embiid in that regard although perhaps knowing the other is in the lineup might tempt both Harden and Joel to take a rest game here or there during the home stretch. If they’re both healthy for the playoffs it could spell major trouble for the rest of the East.

While the Nets wanted to be very cautious with his minutes in the past, Harden has pushed at times to try to play as much as possible. So this is now all one very good, probably minor problem for Daryl Morey, Doc Rivers and the team’s performance staff.

It does ultimately make sense to have a plan in place to rest Harden through the All-Star Break. Getting him to jump on board with that might prove the harder part. The team has a showdown vs. the Milwaukee Bucks on the Feb. 17.

Per another update from Neubeck, Harden has not actually opted in to the 2023 player-option on his contract, as was originally reported.

Liberty Ballers can confirm there are no new changes to his current contract. Harden will still have the same option after the season. He can take a one-year, $46.8M deal to stay in Philly, then seek a four-year extension six months after that goes into effect (nearing a grand total of $274M over five years). Or he can opt out and become a free agent where the Sixers could sign him to a $270M five-year max deal. If he wanted to change teams he could only earn $209M on a four-year deal elsewhere.

But to this point, early indications from all sides are that everyone is happy with the idea of a long-term marriage. There isn’t a concern James Harden wants to be anyplace else other than Philly now. Imagine that, a superstar player who snubbed the big market for South Broad Street.