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Report: James Harden will opt out with 76ers to test free agency

According to reports, James Harden will decline his $35.6 million player option and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but Michael Holley and Vinnie Goodwill share why NBA general managers should be wary.

Last summer, James Harden declined his $47.4 million player option then ultimately re-signed with the 76ers for $14.4 million less in a move that opened up room for Philly to round out a contending roster (the league called that tampering). Harden’s sacrifice didn’t lead to a ring.

Now Harden wants to get paid.

He will opt out of his $35.6 million for next season to hit free agency, seeking the security of multiple years, reports Chris Haynes at Bleacher Report. Harden also says he wants to play for a competitive team.

Harden, 33, took a sizable pay cut last offseason to help the Sixers build the roster out. The guard will now be seeking a four-year contract...

The Houston Rockets have long been a rumored destination, but sources say Harden will only entertain suitors that present a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself, sources say.

There may not be a long line of teams interested in Harden’s services — his skills are in decline and there is a lot of mileage on those tires — but he only needs one. And he appears to have at least two interested parties in the Rockets and 76ers (Daryl Morey said he wants to bring Harden back in Philly).

There are two clear takeaways from this news. The first is obvious: Turning 34 before next season starts — and with his game showing some slippage — he wants the security of as many years as possible. Because of the “over 38" rule, not even the 76ers can offer him more than four years. His max would be $210 million over four years with the Sixers, or $201 million with another team, however, it is highly unlikely any team wants to max him out for four years. Or maybe even one year. The more likely option is a compromise where Harden takes less than the max to get the security of three or four years.

The second takeaway is this feels like a clear message to the Rockets: I’m not coming there just to babysit young players, get some veterans in here who can help us win now. League sources have told NBC Sports that the interest between Harden and the Rockets is genuine, but that doesn’t mean he returns to Texas automatically. There are conditions. Notice this report didn’t use the word “contend” — something that likely only Philly can offer Harden — but rather “competitive roster,” which the Rockets could assemble. Also, Harden wants a system that doesn’t confine him to a role of a facilitator, as he was for much of the time in Philadelphia.

The Rockets have good young talent in players such as Alperen Şengün and Jalen Green, plus they have the No. 4 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft (which likely lands a team Amen Thompson). Young players and that pick could be traded to get the kind of veterans Harden wants to see around him.

Harden averaged 21 points and led the league with 10.7 assists per game. In the playoffs we saw the highs of what he can still do on a given night — a 45-point Game 1 against Boston — as well as the lows (his disappearing act with the series on the line).

What matters ultimately is what Harden values most, which seems to be the security of multiple years. Where that lands him will be one of the big tipping points of the summer.