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James Harden declining player option on 76ers contract

Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden

PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA - MAY 12: James Harden of Philadelphia 76ers reacts during NBA semifinals between Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States on May 12, 2022. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

James Harden already said he’s staying with the 76ers.

He also said he’d sign a contract extension with the Nets then instead forced a trade to Philadelphia. Upon joining the 76ers, Harden said he’d opt in.

Now, that’s also proving to be false.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Harden’s salary next season will be lower than if he opted in:

  • Player-option salary: $47,366,760
  • Max salary as a free agent: $46,526,382

After Harden’s underwhelming playoffs, the 76ers reportedly won’t offer him a max contract.

Harden was reportedly open to taking a discount to help Philadelphia. Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who also just opted out, was a rumored target. But Beal seems set to re-sign with Washington.

More plausibly, Harden will take a far smaller pay cut that allows the 76ers to use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception – maybe on P.J. Tucker. If over the hard-cap line, Philadelphia could use only the taxpayer mid-level exception, which might not be enough to lure Tucker from the Heat or other suitors.

That possibility is why reports of Harden opting in and signing an extension never made sense. With his next deal to be sub-max regardless, Harden can take his pay cut next season – when it’d most help the 76ers – and still get the same total compensation over the length of the deal.

Harden also satisfies his desire to become a free agent for the first time in his career.

All signs point to him returning to Philadelphia. But with Harden – who has proven to be volatile – unencumbered by a contract, everything is open to him in unrestricted free agency.