Some Philadelphia 76ers fans saw some hope in yesterday’s report that James Harden was still undecided about whether or not to opt out of his $35.6 million player option. Our Bryan Toporek provided an excellent breakdown this morning on what Harden opting in could mean for the Sixers.
Basically, it would be all the future flexibility of the gap year plan, with the added competitiveness in 2023-24 of keeping Harden around. Even if you don’t think running it back has the Sixers sniffing contender status (raises hand), there would be value in staving off the potential of Joel Embiid grumbles about the franchise’s commitment to winning.
However, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst was here to throw a bucket of cold water on that idea, appearing on this morning’s edition of Get Up:
“I don’t think just because he [Harden] opts out of it [his player option], which I would expect him to do, it means that he’s leaving. He took a significant pay cut last year to help the Sixers build up that roster, and they did. They signed P.J. Tucker, they traded for De’Anthony Melton. And so he, frankly, is kind of in a little bit of debit based on his production. So I expect the Sixers’ offer to be considerably higher [than his $35.6 million player option number], whatever number of years it is. The indications are that James Harden is going to remain in Philadelphia. I would not say for sure it’s a done deal. But those are the indications, and really it will come down to what sort of contract they negotiate. He could get up to four years. I’m sure Philadelphia, with a 33-year-old, would like it shorter, and that’s part of the negotiation I think the Sixers have been working on in recent weeks.”
We’re all still speculating, but Windhorst is as plugged in as anyone, and this close to the finish line of this ordeal, if he says he expects Harden to opt out, that’s probably what’s happening. The fact that Windhorst says the offer will be considerably higher than the option number is probably concerning to many Sixers fans. The team has a lot of salary cap apron hurdles to navigate and any additional money allocated to Harden will hurt the roster-building chances elsewhere, particularly when the fanbase is lukewarm on him returning at all, to say the least.
Sifting through what we hear here, and breadcrumbs from the likes of Marc Stein and Jake Fischer in recent days, it really feels like Harden will opt out, then re-sign with the Sixers on a two- or three-year deal. If I had to put a number on a new deal, it’d be in the $38-40 million AAV range. Your opinion of that potential reality may vary. We’ll find out what happens in this edition of the multiverse soon enough.