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Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden has a critical offseason coming up. As the ten-time All-Star has a player option on his contract, which is worth nearly $50 million for the 2022-2023 season, he could opt in and start next season with the Sixers.

During his postgame press conference after Philly's Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat, Harden mentioned he planned to do that.

"I’ll be here — I’ll be here," Harden said. "Whatever allows this team to grow and be better and do the things necessary to win and compete at the highest level.”

Many believe that Harden's return to Philadelphia is a bad scenario for the Sixers. After Daryl Morey and the front office moved three key players and draft assets to land Harden at the trade deadline, the star guard had a lot of ups and plenty of downs throughout the final phase of the regular season and the playoffs.

But to Harden, he's confident that an entire offseason without rehab and as a member of the Sixers' program could be a significant booster as he admits the last two years have been difficult for him, personally.

“Honestly, it’s been a long two years for me,” he admitted. “I’m finally starting to feel OK. It will be a great summer for me to get my body right and be ready to go for next year. These last two years have been a whirlwind, though.”

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Last season, Harden started the year off as a disgruntled member of the Houston Rockets. After appearing in eight games to start the 2020-2021 season, Harden and the Rockets agreed to part ways. The Sixers inquired about Harden, but he landed with the Brooklyn Nets.

At first, Harden's time in Brooklyn was positive, but the relationship between the All-Star and the organization over time soured. Eventually, the Sixers got their wish and landed Harden. Even after a second-round exit, the Sixers still seem bullish on Harden. And the feelings are mutual right now.

"This has been a long year, but since I’ve been here, it’s been great,” Harden explained. “We tried to build something so fast. We tried to build a championship-contending team so fast, which I still think we are. We’re just missing a few pieces, but other than that, we tried to go for it right away, and we just came up a little short. It doesn’t stop. We still gotta put work in and continue to keep going.”

Harden enters the 2022 offseason healthy for the first time in a while. After preparing for the upcoming season differently last year, Harden looks forward to getting back on a familiar path, which could help him bounce back and look much better next season.

“I’m excited,” Harden said. “I’ve been trying to get right throughout the course of a basketball season for two years straight, and that’s not it. You know what I mean? All last summer, I was rehabbing, and it was a little frustrating because I’m not used to going through something like that. But it is what it is, and I’m just happy to be healthy now. I’ve got a full summer to be straight and to do the things necessary to come back even better next year.”

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.


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