As the offseason approaches, the burning question in Philadelphia will be whether the 76ers get James Harden back or not.
The ball will be in Harden's court initially. As the ten-time All-Star has a player option attached to his contract for the 2022-2023 season, Harden can opt in and the Sixers will have to pay him a little under $50 million for the season.
Harden didn't pick up his option with the Brooklyn Nets ahead of the 2021-2022 season. And while he had a chance to do it again when he was traded to the Sixers, Harden and Philly's front office missed the deadline.
Following Philadelphia's disappointing Game 6 loss against the Miami Heat, Harden all but guaranteed he'd be back in a Sixers uniform next season.
“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.”
Picking up his contract option seems like the plan for now, but Harden and the 76ers could negotiate a long-term extension this offseason as well. Or, if Harden believes he could get more money long-term in a better situation for himself, he could decline the option and move on.
Before, it was believed that Harden could get a max contract in free agency or from the Sixers. After a disappointing second-round series with the Sixers, many teams might see the situation differently.
Whether the Sixers believe Harden is worth a max contract at this point in his career or not is unclear. But Minnesota Timberwolves veteran Patrick Beverley believes the Sixers should pay Harden what he demands regardless of the run the organization just witnessed.
“You got to let it see it through — you got to let it see it through,” said Beverley on ESPN. “As far as money-wise, you give the boy whatever he’s asking for. Unfortunately, it might sound kind of crazy, but there is no one in the league that can kind of do what he can do still at this time right now. So, you pay him, and you give Doc (Rivers) a chance to do his thing against a healthy team upcoming this year. You get a couple more pieces, maybe a defender here, a pitbull dog type of guy this offseason, and see where the dominos fall.”
Harden appeared in 21 games with the Sixers during the regular season. While averaging 37 minutes on the court, Harden put up 21 points, 10.5 assists, and 7.1 rebounds. He drained 40-percent of his shots and 32-percent of his threes.
In the playoffs, Harden averaged 18 points, 8.6 assists, and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 40-percent from the field and 37-percent from three. His final performance of the year surely left a bad taste in everybody’s mouths but Harden is confident a full offseason without rehab will help him get back on track. Now, the Sixers have to decide whether they believe that’s truly the case or not.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.
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