When the Philadelphia 76ers traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and draft picks for James Harden and Paul Millsap; there was no guarantee that the ten-time All-Star in the deal was guaranteed to play for the Sixers beyond the 2021-2022 NBA season.
Harden had an opportunity to pick up his player option for next season, but he didn't get it done before the deadline. Harden assured a room full of reporters back in February that he intended to pick up the option during the 2022 offseason.
Following the Sixers' second-round loss against the Miami Heat, Harden reiterated that he planned to opt-in for next season and made it clear he wanted to be in Philadelphia.
At the time, rumors were going around hinting at the idea that Harden could return to the Sixers on a team-friendly extension. Harden responded to those rumors back in May.
"Yeah, We're trying to win a championship — that's the goal," said Harden. "So, whatever it looks like to continue to build, us individually, continuing to get to know each other and find out what works and what doesn't work, things like that. I'll be here — I'll be here. Whatever allows this team to grow and be better and do the things necessary to win and compete at the highest level."
More than a month later, it seems Harden and the Sixers are trending towards getting a small extension done as the 2022 NBA Draft approaches.
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Harden will pick up his player option. Then, Harden and the Sixers are expected to work on an extension that could benefit both parties.
"Harden and Sixers leadership are aligned on one clear directive, sources said: The franchise's best opportunity to compete for a championship starring Joel Embiid, as well as Harden's optimal opportunity to earn his first NBA ring, resides with Harden playing in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. "
Sixers ownership, though, has been resistant to the idea of giving Harden a full four-year maximum contract extension beyond his 2022-23 option season, sources told B/R, or the five-year deal that Harden would be eligible for if he chose to decline his $47.4 million player option for next season. Signing perhaps a two-year extension after his option season to create a new three-year framework would also provide Harden with greater optionality for his own career."
If and when Harden picks up his player option, he'll be on track to earn over $47 million for the 2022-2023 season. If he doesn't ink a new deal with the Sixers, Harden could become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
Barring any changes of heart, it seems Harden is fully committed to the Sixers, at least in the short term. As the ten-time All-Star has a long list of accomplishments in the NBA, Harden has yet to achieve winning a title. Considering Joel Embiid just wrapped up his second MVP-caliber season, his prime window is clearly wide open.
A full season together could do wonders for Embiid and Harden. While the Sixers still have a lot of improvements to make beyond the stars, they are in decent shape if they can keep Harden around to be the team's top playmaker while Embiid continues to elevate his game.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for All76ers, a Sports Illustrated channel. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.
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