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Report Delves Into Sixers' Plans for James Harden's Contract Extension

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly 76ers Editor

One major question for the Philadelphia 76ers heading into this offseason is what the future will look like for James Harden. He made it known at the end of the season he would like to remain in Philadelphia, leaving the only question to be how the contract extension would get worked out.

Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report reported on Thursday afternoon "all signs point toward All-Star guard James Harden returning to the Philadelphia 76ers on a shorter-term contract extension."

Harden is coming off what is, for his standards, a down year last season. In 21 games after being traded to Philadelphia, he averaged 21 points while shooting 40.2% from the field and 32.6% from 3-point range to go with 7.1 rebounds and 10.5 assists. His play in the postseason was also poor, and it appeared as if he no longer had the same burst and explosiveness he once did.

Heading into his age-33 season with some concerns around his health and potential signs of his age catching up to him, giving Harden a shorter-term contract extension would be the smart choice for the Sixers. Paying Harden huge money in his age-36 and age-37 seasons would be a disaster for Philadelphia. According to Fischer, there was a lot of resistance towards giving Harden a max contract:

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.

Fischer also wrote that Harden "in any scenario" is expected to pick up his player option for the 2022-23 season but the team's "further financial commitment to him remains to be seen once the legal negotiating period begins."

Due to provisions in the CBA, Harden can maximize the amount of money in his next contract if he waits until Aug. 10 (six months after the trade which occurred on Feb. 10) to sign an extension. He would be eligible for a rough total of $149.3 million through the 2024-25 season if he signs an extension before Aug. 10. If he waited, he would be eligible for a total of $150.8 million through 2024-25. All cap numbers are courtesy of numbers given to Bleacher Report.

However, Fischer also goes on to report about the potential of Harden taking less money to help the Sixers better be able to improve the roster in an effort to win a championship next season. "There has also been plenty of talk among league personnel of Harden potentially taking less than his maximum salary to amplify Philadelphia's efforts to build a championship-contending rotation around Harden and Embiid."

The Sixers are tight up against the cap, so any amount of money they can save from Harden taking less on his next contract could prove vastly beneficial. However, any of those benefits will not be felt this season if Harden, as Fischer reports, accepts his $47.2 million player option for next season. It will become much more difficult for the team to free up the necessary cap space to use the full $10.2 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception this offseason, but the added long-term flexibility will more than make up for it.

Signing Harden to the proposed three-year contract from Fischer's report presents perhaps the best combination of short-term and long-term benefit while attempting to minimize the risk. Having Harden on the roster gives the team their best chance to compete for a championship in the next three seasons, even more so if he takes a bit less money on his contract extension. Then getting off from his contract and freeing up a max contract slot in the 2025-26 offseason, with Joel Embiid at age 31 and burgeoning star Tyrese Maxey at age 24, would allow the team to re-tool and continue to compete for a championship.

Fischer also added an interesting bit of information regarding Tobias Harris' future with the Sixers. Harris made more adjustments than perhaps anyone else on the roster in the second half of last season in an attempt to fit in post-Harden trade. His name has been floated in trade talks at times throughout last season, with the Inquirer's Keith Pompey's report from Wednesday afternoon adding on to the rumor mill surrounding Harris.

If he remains on the roster next season, he will be the fourth option behind Embiid, Harden and Maxey. Fischer reported there was some dissatisfaction among Harris' camp with his role on the team moving forward: "Harris' representation has made it known that the veteran would like more on-ball opportunities within the Sixers' offense, particularly in pick-and-roll action."

Harris has two seasons remaining on the five-year, $180 million contract he signed back in 2019. His role on the team is not likely to change much moving forward, and his name is expected to continue to be in trade talks as we get deeper into the offseason.

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