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Report: James Harden to take $15M paycut in order to help Sixers vie for a title

The terms of the James Harden contract are not yet official, but it sounds like The Beard will be here at least one more year, having afforded his team a lot more wiggle room than we expected.

Ever since the Sixers traded Ben Simmons for James Harden, the three-time scoring champion, 2018 MVP, 10-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA, top 75 all time, and future Hall of Famer, we’ve been wondering what The Beard’s next contract might look like.

Well the one thing that isn’t on that incredible resume, is a championship. And it appears that’s what Harden, 33, has prioritized in structuring his next deal, which sounds like it will be at least $15M less than the salary he could have landed himself by picking up that $47.4M option for 2023.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Harden is planning to take a $15M paycut, in the first year of a two-year deal with a player option, in Year two:

The deal is likely the last and only major salary move of the offseason for Philadelphia (unless they really surprise us with a blockbuster trade). It basically means he’ll be here for at least one more season and we can revisit this subject again come summer 2023.

Last month Harden officially declined his option, and as Shams noted, that move is what allowed Daryl Morey and Elton Brand to utilize precious newfound wiggle room under the luxury tax apron to sign a pair of Harden’s former teammates (and friends) in Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker, and Utah Jazz swing man Danuel House. Both of those players were Harden’s teammates on the Rockets in the past.

Harden, it was reported, went to the Hamptons during last holiday weekend with Sixers Brass to negotiate terms of this deal. And by most accounts, the negotiations became extremely hostile, contentious, and heated:

Just kidding, apparently it was a major vibes sesh and as Shams noted, the trust there between Harden, Morey and Michael Rubin is what helped facilitate such a team first move.

One of my favorite parts of the whole evening was Tyrese Maxey apparently operating along the party (thrown by former 76ers minority stake owner Rubin) fringes, in stealth-mode, while his star teammates danced for cell phone cameras:

“I’ll be here … whatever allows this team to grow and get better and do the necessary things to win and compete at the highest level,” Harden said back in May, following the team’s brutal loss to the Miami Heat during the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Weeks ago, when it felt like he was definitely going to opt in, fans wondered about those comments. Did he change his mind? Did ownership prefer to save money down the road instead of during Embiid’s prime? How many years will he get?

Apparently, James meant every word of that statement. And so now, Joel Embiid gets to play with Tucker, the #dawg he recently mentioned they need someone like.

“You look at someone like P.J. Tucker,” Embiid said back in May. “A great player, but it’s not about him knocking down shots. It’s about what he does whether it’s on the defensive end or rebounding the ball.”

Had Harden opted in he could have either extended his contract later in the summer (waiting until Aug. would have let him earn 8% annual raises) or “bet on himself” on a one year deal while revisiting the subject in 12 months. Him choosing either of those likely more lucrative opt in paths would have made landing Tucker and House (or anyone who’s already received similar sized offers) exceedingly difficult as our Bryan Toporek desrcribed.

Had Harden opted in, the most the Sixers could have offered free agents was a single $6.3M Taxpayer’s Mid-Level exception, and perhaps a vet min salary. Even the TPMLE would have fallen short of the amount some helpful role players are making:

The way it shook out, Philadelphia spent nearly $15M on both Tucker and House, and they were able to do so as soon as free agency began, avoiding a lengthy limbo where the top available wings would surely have settled elsewhere. And in a roundabout way, it came right out of Harden’s aqua-themed cargo pockets.

In fact, $15M is actually more than the precise amount he needed to forgo in year one, to create cap room for Tucker and House. We’ll wait for more info but it’s possible the Sixers could have some additional room under the Apron to maneuver moving forwards.

This whole process should be considered a huge win for this organization because there are dozens of ways it could have gone awry. We’ve had fun calling them the Philadelphia Rockets lately, but this whole negotiation also seems a bit Spurs-like so far.

Not long ago, we had heard that Harden was very likely to opt in and that the team might structure a three-year max salaried framework netting Harden around $151M through 2025. This is substantially less money in year one than that and also incentivizes Harden to get back to the All-NBA status he held before all of these hamstring injuries first cropped up back in Mar. 2021.

(Fair warning, a player option next summer also means that there will be rumors of rival suitors during next season as well as the occasional body language expert fishing for signs of discord.)

Last winter, we hilariously heard rumors that Harden “forgot” to opt into his massive player option for 2023. Imagine forgetting to cash basically a $50M check? If this Sixers team wins a title, this story will only grow into a bit of joyous Philadelphia sports folklore.

If we ballpark him for roughly $32.4M this season and $35M for the next, in one sense he basically “trades” $15M now for a bit of disaster insurance for next year. I fully expect him to opt out again in 12 months. But I do strongly suspect the Sixers would have happily extended him another two seasons if he preferred so my read is that Harden wanted to gamble that he can return to form after a summer dedicated to getting healthy.

I’ll be here. Whatever allows this team to grow. Harden’s words and actions provide some good ideas for 2023 season mantras.

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