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Windhorst: When 76ers Traded for James Harden, It Was Implied He'd Get 'Big' Contract

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVApril 5, 2022

Nic Antaya/Getty Images

While he's technically eligible for free agency this offseason, a long-term extension for Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden might be a mere formality.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst said at the 42:30 mark on his Hoop Collective podcast the Sixers "implied that they were going to offer him the big number" when they acquired Harden from the Brooklyn Nets.

Windhorst added, however, that there was some frustration from Philadelphia's side when the 10-time All-Star failed to immediately trigger his $47.4 million player option.

"There was an agreement for Harden to opt in to his contract for next year as part of the trade, and the reason there was, was because the 76ers just didn't want to have that uncertainty out there," Windhorst said.

"But Harden ... was asked about it and he basically gave the answer, 'There's a lot going on. You know, I had to pack. I had to cancel my cable and all this stuff.' Like, oh what about that $40 million option, you just forgot about that? Like, you know, you forgot your case of DVDs? It was a nonsensical answer, but basically he just didn't do it. It was agreed to; he just didn't do it."

The way in which Harden forced his way out of Brooklyn is one reason why him triggering that player option might have allowed Philadelphia's front office to sleep easier at night.

The Ringer's Logan Murdock reported on March 31 that Harden "twice assured" Kevin Durant he intended to remain with the Nets long-term. Getting a verbal commitment from the dynamic guard may not carry much weight.

There's also the fact that Harden hasn't immediately returned to his old self upon leaving the Nets. Through 18 games with the Sixers, he's averaging 22.0 points and 9.8 assists while shooting 33.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Since he made his debut for the team on Feb. 25, Philly is 13-7 and sixth in net rating (4.7), per NBA.com. By comparison, their net rating was 1.9 prior to him taking the floor.

Still, the Washington Post's Ben Golliver wrote that the 32-year-old still has something to prove in the postseason with regard to his next deal:

"But these playoffs are about more than Harden’s reputation or popularity, as he is playing for a contract that could be worth up to $270 million over five years. Harden has missed some time in each of the past two seasons, and his quality of play was severely limited by a hamstring injury during the 2021 playoffs. If health issues arise again or if he continues to show signs of aging, it would be harder to justify re-signing Harden on a full max deal that would carry him until he is 37 years old."

In theory, Harden's player option would provide the Sixers with an added layer of protection. They'd get to see him and Joel Embiid play together for a full season before they had to determine whether the partnership can work out.

But it doesn't appear that's a luxury Philadelphia will get to enjoy.

As a result, the front office might get stuck having to choose from one of two unsavory options. It could either let Harden walk and ultimately come away with little from trading away Ben Simmons, or it could commit to a star player who might be entering a decline.

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