The Sixers undoubtedly would love to work out a similar deal with Harden. The question is if Harden will go for it. “This is going to define Daryl,” said the exec. “The trade has not worked out the way he had hoped. If he messes this up and James leaves, where does that leave them? If he overpays him, how do they build a winner? He knew James better than anybody. He knew his lifestyle, he knew where his body was at. He had to have some level of knowledge about where this was going. He loves the guy. He’s loyal to the guy. I get that. But you have to separate from that when making these decisions.”
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It’s not that simple. Embiid knows it. “Everybody expected the Houston James Harden,” Embiid said. “That’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a playmaker.” Harden knows it. The rest of the NBA knows it. “The decline is evident,” a rival team executive told SI. “You can see it in his ability to create space, to create the shots he would usually generate. He doesn’t have the burst. People aren’t scared of him driving and scoring. They are challenging that step back more frequently. He’s just not the same player.”
He’s not, but Harden, who will turn 33 this summer, enters the offseason with leverage. He has until June 29 to opt into the final year of his contract, a decision that would guarantee him $47.4 million next season. He could bet on himself, that a healthy summer and a full training camp with Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle will lead to a more productive season. It’s a risk—Harden’s hamstring issues have become chronic, and he could get hurt or his regression could continue—but it’s a stick he could use in negotiations. Because what is Philadelphia going to do? Allowing Harden to opt in and play out his contract makes some business sense. But Harden has effectively quit on two teams when he didn’t like what was happening. Philadelphia, desperate to maximize the MVP-level seasons of Embiid, doesn’t want to be a third.
Morey has routinely referred to Harden as the greatest isolation player in NBA history and believed the chance to play with a dominant scoring big like Embiid—the type of player Morey and Harden talked about but were never able to bring to Houston—would energize him. It didn’t. Harden averaged 21 points per game during the regular season. His field goal percentage (40.2%) and three-point percentage (32.6%) were career lows. His numbers in the playoffs were comparable. For every brilliant game Harden played (a 22-point, 15-assist effort in Game 6 against Toronto, a 31-point outburst in Game 4 against Miami) there were twice as many clunkers. In Philly’s last two games, Harden attempted 22 shots, scored 25 points and had nearly as many turnovers (eight) as assists (13). While ex-Sixer Jimmy Butler carried his team—“I still don’t know why we let him go,” said a still-salty Embiid—Harden was little more than a bystander on his.
Derek Bodner: Daryl Morey, on whether he expects James Harden to be back on the Sixers: “The plan is to have him back. That’s been the plan since the trade. Obviously, we have to work with his representation, and that’ll be between us to figure out how that works.”
Austin Krell: Daryl Morey: “He’s an incredibly talented player. We’ll figure out how to use him,” when asked if Harden has higher levels to get to or if expectations have to be adjusted. Morey says the plan is to have Harden back, and has been since the trade deadline.
Get Up: @WindhorstESPN says to pump the brakes on Harden returning to Philadelphia next season with a max deal. “Nobody in the NBA believes that the Sixers are going to give James Harden a max contract.”
Michael Scotto: James Harden on his $47 million player option: “I’ll be here. Whatever allows this team to continue grow, get better and do the things necessary to compete at the highest level.” Harden said the ball didn’t get to him. Asked if Doc Rivers called plays for him: “Next question.”
James Harden has a $47.4 million player option heading into next season. If he exercises it, he would become eligible to extend with the Sixers for up to four years, $222.8 million starting on August 10, 2022. It was previously reported that he planned on exercising the option but it appears that he will decline it and enter free agency instead. If he does that, Harden will be eligible to re-sign with the Sixers for up to five years projected at $269.9 million. If he were to join a new team via free agency, he would be eligible for up to four years, $200.1 million.
Now the franchise heads into another offseason full of uncertainty with another massive — and potentially expensive — question. Is there a future for Harden and the 76ers? “This is their bed,” said a Western Conference executive. “They’re making it, they’re gonna sleep in it and it’s not gonna f—ing work.”
“Would he go along with a little less? I don’t know,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “If there were any logic whatsoever, the answer [to giving him a max deal] would be no.”
Nets coach and former NBA big man Amar’e Stoudemire recently slammed Harden, saying that he does not deserve to receive a max deal from the Sixers. “I can’t commit to that,” he said of offering James Harden a max deal. “If I’m the owner of the Sixers, I cannot commit to giving him a max deal. I just don’t see the dedication that I would need to see from my top 75 player. You have to be able to have a certain level of determination and focus on being the best player you can possibly be and also be there for your teammates when they need you the most. … If he’s not capable of doing that as a max player, I’m not going to be willing to now give you a max contract if you’re not showing me that you can handle the situation.”
On a recent episode of The Athletic NBA Show, Sam Amick shared some intel on James Harden’s contract situation with the Philadelphia 76ers. Amick says Philadelphia may know Harden won’t demand a max deal in free agency. “When the Sixers got him, their intel was that he would potentially be willing to take less. And obviously, you know, nobody knows him better than Daryl (Morey),” said Amick.
Sam Amick: When the Sixers got (James Harden), their intel was that he would potentially be willing to take less. And obviously, you know, nobody knows him better than Daryl (Morey).
“So here’s my second conspiracy theory,” said Zach Lowe on his podcast. “This one, James Harden himself just debunked, if you care about what is said at press conferences. So James Harden, it was reported I think by The Athletic, that James Harden opted in as part of his trade to Philadelphia. Then it was reported hours later that he in fact had not opted in. Then it was reported days later that the reason he had not opted in was that he just missed the deadline to file the paperwork with the NBA league office. The fax got stuck in the machine. Or the signature couldn’t be found or something. “Here’s the conspiracy. This is the one going around the league that James Harden, to be clear, just debunked. He’s going to decline his option, re-sign for less money, so that Philadelphia can dump Tobias Harris into somebody’s cap space and open up if they dump some other people an almost, almost, almost max slot for a third star. That’s the one that’s going around the league. And people who say that are like, ‘If that happens, some eyebrows at the league office might be raised.’
Rich Hoffman: James Harden said that he plans to opt in to the final year of his contract but has not done so yet: “Everything happened so fast.”
In terms of things that didn’t happen, however, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most important one: A league source confirmed Monday morning that James Harden did NOT opt in to his deal before being traded to Philadelphia. (Originally reported by PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck.)
Shams Charania on James Harden: He was going to opt into that player option and the paperwork was filed, but they did not meet the buzzer for the opt in.
Kyle Neubeck: source familiar with the situation tells @thephillyvoice James Harden did not opt into the next year of his deal yesterday, as was reported elsewhere. Sixers and Harden are both confident and feeling good about where they stand long term, but an important detail nonetheless
Shams Charania: As part of deal, new 76ers star James Harden is opting into his $47.3 million player option on contract for next season, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.
Jonathan Feigen: Heard last night that five or six teams needed to wait for the Simmons-Harden deal to make their own deals. Could be many coming in now, (Don’t think Boston-San Antonio was dependent on Brooklyn-Philly.)
On Philadelphia’s side of the equation, the logic is pretty simple. Based on the intel they’ve gathered, they don’t view the trade deadline as the only opportunity they’ll have to acquire James Harden, and sources say they continue to insist they won’t be coerced into throwing everything at Brooklyn to make a deal happen now.
And for anyone who’s hung up on the fact that the Sixers might struggle to get to Harden’s max number, consider this much: At this later stage of Harden’s career, he has made it abundantly clear that his focus is on the goal of winning a title. The belief in Philadelphia, sources say, is that he wouldn’t let $10 million or $20 million (over the life of a deal) be a deal-breaker if he wanted to play for the Sixers.
Mike Vorkunov: Useful to put that money in context, too. Harden will have made $272 million in NBA contracts after end of this season. He has a reported $200 million Adidas deal. He has other endorsements. $10-$20 million is a lot; it also represents about 2-4.5% of his earnings we know about.
NBA teams suspect the Sixers are tampering in the hope of acquiring Harden through a forced sign-and-trade for Simmons this summer. However, people close to the Sixers don’t believe they will face any tampering charges.
Once again, sources told ESPN, Harden and his manager have been searching for an agent to partner and navigate the situation — whether that’s free agency, a sign-and-trade to leave the Nets after the season, staying on a new deal, or even, a trade prior to Thursday’s deadline.
Yet, sources have said some in the organization are privately questioning his commitment to remaining in Brooklyn, and becoming frustrated with the uncertainty. A source added that despite the public support, key players wouldn’t be disappointed if Harden is moved due to the uncertainty of how he truly feels. That’s where Simmons comes in.
Because even as Harden tells the Nets that he wants to stay long-term, two people with significant history and relationships with him — Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin, and Morey — believe Harden’s interested in playing in Philadelphia, sources said.
A source said NBA teams fear that Rubin is putting things in place for a forced sign-and-trade through back channels. Teams think that’s why the Sixers are content with waiting until the offseason to deal Simmons.
Michael Scotto: Kyrie Irving on how often he, Kevin Durant and James Harden haven’t played together: “I hate that I even have to answer that question. We think about it daily. It’s not something that’s short-sighted for us. We think about the long term and how well we gel together as a trio.”
Meanwhile, other teams are concerned that Sixers executive Daryl Morey is tampering with Harden like they believed he did in his run with the Houston Rockets to acquire Chris Paul. Paul had a player option heading into the 2017-18 offseason with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chris Haynes: There’s another player we’re going to add to this dynamic. Michael Rubin. For those who don’t know, the Sixers co-owner is very, very, very good friends with James Harden. And I’ve been talking to a rival owner, talking to rival front office executives, who believe that there can be some talk going on now between both sides.
Chris Haynes: Some front office executives are prepared to… when the time comes, if a deal does look like is about to transpire where there could be some potential sign-and-trade in the offseason… They’re prepared to get the league involved on a potential collusion case dating back to what they what they believe could be going on right now, you know as to why we’re probably hearing a lot of Philadelphia, James Harden talk. I was told there will be complaints issued to the league on try to investigate to see if there was any collusion.
Like it may also be coming from there, but I’ve heard this. I’m sure you have to, like it’s other people around the league who are not part of Brooklyn’s, uh, franchise or part of the Sixers, who have said they’re hearing that James Harden is looking around wondering what his other options may be and eyeing Philly because of the obvious. Relationship with Daryl Morey, trust there from other years in Houston together. Hardens also tight with Michael Rubin, one of the Sixers owners, no mystery about this stuff, but I was hearing an entire case being made for why Harden might go to Philly this summer and it’d have to be via sign and trade of course, from an executive who is not with either of these franchises.
People close to James Harden, they feel like almost a loyalty to Daryl Morey, because Morey was with the Rockets when they traded for James Harden. The organization, the way things played out, helped make James Harden a superstar. He did it on his own, but certainly might not have happened if he wasn’t in another organization
Harden can opt out of the 2022-23 season to become a free agent and sign elsewhere or the Nets could agree to a sign-and-trade deal in which Harden opts into the final year of his contract with plans to sign a long-term deal with his new team in 2023. ESPN’s front-office insider Bobby Marks projects only the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs to have cap space this offseason.
Dave Early: “Yeah I think James is happy to be here,” says Steve Nash. Adds he’s understandably frustrated with the teams average play since the COVID return. But thinks he’s as happy now as he has been when he first arrived.
I get the sense Harden is focused on trying to compete with Brooklyn right now and trying to make the most of the season. I don’t think he’s angling to go to Philadelphia currently. Brooklyn is looking at how they can compete now to try and better themselves for the second half of the season. There are a couple of other Nets notes as the deadline looms.
“I don’t know about any reports,” Harden said. “Of course I’m frustrated because we’re not healthy, there’s a lot of inconsistencies for whatever reason: injuries, COVID, whatever you want to call it. But yeah, it’s frustrating. I think everyone in this organization is frustrated because we are better than what our record is, and we should be on the way up. That’s all it is. I don’t know anything about any reports. If you didn’t hear it from me, I don’t talk to nobody. I have an agent. If you don’t hear it from me, then it’s reports, So I’m frustrated because I wanna win and I’m a competitor. It’s pretty simple.”
Dave Early: “If you didn’t hear it from me, like I don’t talk to nobody, I don’t have an agent, if ya’ll don’t hear from me, than it’s reports. I’m frustrated because I want to win, and I’m a competitor, it’s pretty simple.” -Harden on recent reports he has ‘increased interest’ in a trade pic.twitter.com/BrP2elTbTg
Harden remains invested in competing for the title in Brooklyn this season, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. But Harden has recently informed several confidants—including former teammates and coaches—of his interest in exploring other opportunities outside of Brooklyn this summer, league sources told B/R.
Nets coach Steve Nash’s fluid rotations have also disappointed Harden, sources told B/R. Nash has favored hot-hand closing lineups, rather than a fixed crunch-time unit. His new city could also be an issue. According to multiple sources, Harden has not enjoyed living in Brooklyn, compared to his days as a central Houston magnate. Outside of the change in climate, the chasm between state taxes in New York versus Texas is quite obvious as well.
If Harden opts into his player option for next season, he becomes eligible for a four-year, $227.2 million extension, which in total would give him a five-year, $274.7 million contract. If Harden opts out and the Nets re-sign him with his Bird Rights, the max he could make is $270 million over five years. The Sixers would prefer Harden opt out, because it doesn’t require the Nets’ participation to bring The Beard farther down Interstate 95. But given that Harden’s next contract will likely be the final big deal of his career, doing so makes no sense for him. Should Harden opt out and sign with another team in free agency, the max he could get is a four-year, $200.1 million deal. In short, unless Harden wants to leave $74 million on the table, the logical way he would change teams, if he chooses to do so, is through a sign-and-trade.
James Harden or bust? That’s the feeling around the NBA as the 76ers search for ways to end the Ben Simmons saga. The Sixers are looking to trade Simmons, who has yet to play this season after requesting to be moved in August. “At the end of the day, it’s Harden all the way,” said a league source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They want Harden whether they get him now. Whether they get him on a forced sign-and-trade this summer.”
According to sources, Harden and his camp have maintained a close relationship with Morey. In addition, Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin is also tight with Harden and his friends. Harden’s close friend and rapper Lil Baby was even on hand when Rubin, Meek Mill and the Sixers hosted 25 youths from the Philadelphia area before their Dec. 15 game against the Miami Heat. Together, the group provided a Wells Fargo Center experience through the REFORM Alliance for young people who have been adversely affected by criminal justice.
Winning without Simmons certainly makes it easier for Embiid to adopt that stance … and Philadelphia will be going for its 11th victory in 13 games Monday afternoon at Washington on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Perhaps he has also been sold on a concept that executives with a growing number of rival teams say they see as Morey’s new preferred scenario: Keeping Simmons beyond the trade deadline to exhaust every last possibility for executing a complicated sign-and-trade in the offseason that finally brings James Harden to Philadelphia and routes Simmons to Brooklyn.
Complicated is a polite description for such a deal, since the Sixers would be hard-capped by taking Harden in via sign-and-trade and would thus have to shed more salary than just Simmons’ contract according to the league’s luxury-tax rules to make it work financially. Yet it must be noted that there is enough noise circulating leaguewide about Harden’s reported openness to relocation this summer — after he turned down a lucrative extension from the Nets in October — to give Morey the encouragement he needs to wait.
Even before those reports, Nets people who would need to be aware of Harden’s future were well aware that Philadelphia loomed as a potential suitor for the guard, SNY sources say.
But if things go sideways in Brooklyn and Harden decides to test the market, Morey and the Sixers will almost certainly have interest. At that point, Simmons-for-Harden sign-and-trade wouldn’t seem so far-fetched.
Michael Scotto: James Harden on not signing an extension: “The contract, the money is going to be there. I don’t plan on leaving this organization and the situation we have. My focus is on the season and winning a championship. The contract and all that stuff will play itself out as it should.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: Brooklyn is confident that James Harden wants to be there long-term. And the fact that Kevin Durant signed his extension in the offseason, that’s a pretty good indicator that he knows James Harden is confident in his future in Brooklyn.
Harden believes his window to chase championships in Houston has ended, and constructing a super team with the Nets represents his best pathway to a title, sources said. Harden can become a free agent in 2022 if he opts out of the final year of his contract — and sources say that Brooklyn represents a two-year play to win a title before deciding on the next steps in his career.
John Clark: I’m hearing one of the reasons along with coaching that Sixers have a lot of interest in Mike D’Antoni is feeling with some in organization that he could help lure James Harden to Philly. Harden can become a free agent in 2 years and there is possibility of trade.
While planning their summer roster moves, the Rockets “plan” to take a step that will allow them to tell potential free agents that star guard James Harden will not be going anywhere. For the second consecutive season, the Rockets intend to offer Harden a contract extension long before he could hit free agency, a person will knowledge of the team’s plans said Tuesday. The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team’s intentions have not been made public.
For now, it is less likely that Harden might consider the extension this summer than Westbrook, league sources told The Vertical. Harden might prefer to wait until closer to his free agency and continue to evaluate the Rockets’ ability to develop into a championship contender, sources told The Vertical. Harden has a massive adidas shoe deal that guarantees him great earning power beyond his NBA contract. What’s more, the Rockets are under no obligation to offer him the extension this summer.
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May 27, 2022 | 8:51 pm EDT Update
Marc J. Spears: With the hiring of Darvin Ham as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers via @Adrian Wojnarowski, half of the 30 head coaches in the NBA are now black. With Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra (Asian), 16 of the NBA head coaches are of color. The Charlotte Hornets still have an opening.