Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden declined his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 NBA season, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
Charania noted that despite declining his option, Harden plans to return to Philadelphia:
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden is declining his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season and intends to return on a contract in free agency that gives the team financial flexibility to bolster the roster, sources tell <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAthletic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheAthletic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>.
Immediately after the Sixers acquired Harden from the Brooklyn Nets ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline, there was some confusion about the status of his option.
Charania reported on Feb. 10 the 10-time All-Star had opted in. However, the Philly Voice's Kyle Neubeck reported one day later that he had missed the deadline to trigger the option midseason:
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported Wednesday that Harden would be back with Philadelphia "one way or another," even if the star declined the option:
Now, the terms of a new deal still have to be worked out.
There hasn't much doubt about whether Harden would remain in Philadelphia beyond this season. The Sixers presumably wouldn't have gone through with the trade without some assurances about his commitment.
But the player option theoretically allowed the front office a little more time to see how Harden fit with the team before it was confronted with a significant decision.
The 32-year-old was eligible to sign a monster extension that would pay him more than $60 million in the final year.
Sam Quinn @SamQuinnCBS
The max extension James Harden can sign in six months:<br><br>22-23: $47,366,760 (player option)<br>23-24: $49,735,098<br>24-25: $53,713,905<br>25-26: $57,692,712<br>26-27: $61,671,519<br>Total: $270,179,994<br><br>Harden would earn more on this deal than he has in his entire career thus far, per Spotrac.
After a disappointing start to the season in Brooklyn, Harden's performance didn't improve much following his trade to Philly. In 21 appearances, he averaged 21.0 points, 10.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds. He also shot 40.2 percent from the floor and 32.6 percent from beyond the arc.
His production did nothing to alleviate the concerns about how he'll look as he gets deeper into his 30s.
Especially early into a season, Harden's conditioning can be a bit suspect. Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported in February that Nets star Kevin Durant was "disappointed by the poor conditioning Harden sported" as Brooklyn began practicing last year.
Will Harden adapt his game a bit and age like Chris Paul or stay the same player and wind up more like Russell Westbrook?
Any discussion about his future also has to include a note about the circumstances under which he left his last two teams.
He effectively washed his hands of the Houston Rockets in a January 2021 press conference and left them with no choice but to trade him. As the 2022 trade deadline neared, it became clear he was going to follow the same playbook with the Nets.
In what was ultimately his last game with Brooklyn, the southpaw shot 2-of-11 from the field and scored four points in a 112-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 2. ESPN's Brian Windhorst made the point that Harden was "screaming in every way he possibly can, 'I don't want to be here; get me out of here.'"
At a not-so-distant point down the road, the dynamic between him and the Sixers could look a lot different than it does now.
But this is the bargain the front office signed up for when it executed the trade. When you have a perennial MVP contender such as Joel Embiid, who turned 28 in March, your long-term outlook only extends so far.
Winning one title will more than balance out any sort of messy divorce between the Sixers and Harden—if it comes to fruition—or any danger for his contract to become a major millstone on the payroll.
Despite all of those potential risks, Philadelphia backed itself into a corner and has little choice but to hope Harden will improve in his first full season with the team.