Despite James Harden trade rumors swirling, it’s possible the 10-time All-Star guard could be back with the Sixers.
On an appearance on SportsCenter Sunday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said it’s “more than conceivable” that The Beard could play for Philly again this season.
Full question and answer from SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/54GE8T0aVE— Erin Grugan (@eringrugan) July 2, 2023
Last Thursday, Harden decided to pick up his $35.6 million player option and was looking to be traded. At the time, there were reports that Harden likely played his last game in Philadelphia. As Liberty Ballers reported when the news broke, that sentiment was premature. A league source categorized that wording as “strong,” adding that the team would work with Harden to explore trades, but wouldn’t simply appease Harden’s request.
There’s been obvious mutual interest between Harden and the Los Angeles Clippers. For the Sixers, without landing Paul George (multiple reports have shot down this possibility), it’s difficult to see an easy trade with the Clippers. If the Sixers aren’t getting a star in return, you’d likely be looking at Norman Powell as the biggest piece of a trade for salary matching purposes.
Powell is a fine player. The issue is he’s due $18 million this season then $19.2 million in 2024-25 and $20.4 million in 2025-26. If Harden were to be traded without a star in the return, Daryl Morey would likely prioritize flexibility and draft capital in order to go star hunting again next offseason.
And that’s also why Harden returning is far from a worst-case scenario for the Sixers. There’s understandable trepidation from fans based on Harden’s exits from Houston and Brooklyn. What kind of Harden would you even be getting?
But this is almost like the best of both worlds — it’s a sort of “gap year” while still potentially being competitive.
Yes, the Sixers fell well short of their goals last season, but they had the best record in the NBA from December on and were minutes away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team is also upgrading from Doc Rivers to Nick Nurse at head coach.
If they come up short again, they’ll be dropping nearly $75 million off their books with the contracts of Harden and Tobias Harris expiring. Morey could potentially be operating with a ton of flexibility in the 2024 offseason. The free-agent class could be headlined by players like Pascal Siakam and Jaylen Brown (though both could get much more money by returning to their respective teams) and surely a disgruntled star or two could become available.
In the clip, Woj talked about how if a deal were to go down, it would likely take multiple teams being involved for everyone to get what they want. Woj also cites Morey’s track record. Historically, he’s been patient and creative in these spots, finding ways to execute trades with multiple teams and several players involved. Deals like that take time to develop.
So, prepare yourselves for a possible long trade process — or the possibility that Harden ultimately returns.