In a shocking move, James Harden on Thursday will opt into his $35.6 player option with the Sixers and will work with the team to explore trade opportunities, a league source confirms to Liberty Ballers. Shams Charania of The Athletic was the first to report the news.
Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice adds that the Los Angeles Clippers are a potential Harden suitor. Our Bryan Toporek looked into a trade scenario with the Clippers if Harden chose to opt in. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN also adds the New York Knicks as a potential landing spot.
Back in May, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported that Harden intended to decline his player option. At the time, it felt like an inevitability with Harden’s desire to cash in during free agency one more time at 33 years old.
Now, it appears Harden is keeping his options open to play for a contender — whether that’s in Philadelphia or elsewhere. Because of league tampering rules, the Sixers were not allowed to engage Harden until he opted in or free agency began. The idea that Harden has definitely played his last game in Philly appears premature, per a league source. The Sixers will look into potential trades, but the team will only strike a deal that makes sense.
Opting in makes Harden eligible to be traded immediately, meaning a Harden suitor that perhaps didn’t have the space and didn’t want to hard cap themselves with a sign-and-trade would have an easier time acquiring him.
So, it appears we might not get another season of the Harden-Joel Embiid duo. They formed one of the most dynamic pairs in the NBA. They were the first teammates to lead the league in scoring and assists since 1981-82. As has been the case for most of the Embiid era, the team stumbled in the second round, blowing a 3-2 series lead against the Boston Celtics. Both Harden and Embiid struggled mightily in potential closeout Games 6 and 7.
While it appeared the Sixers were mostly planning to run back the same team from last season, a Harden move would undoubtedly shake things up significantly.
Free agency begins Friday night at 6 p.m. We’ll see what Daryl Morey has up his sleeve.