Report: Insiders Feel James Harden Could Follow Chris Paul's Lead with 76ers Contract

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVMay 13, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA - MAY 12: James Harden of Philadelphia 76ers in action during NBA semifinals between Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States on May 12, 2022. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Some in the NBA reportedly believe that the Philadelphia 76ers and guard James Harden could try to come to terms on a contract similar to the one Chris Paul signed with the Phoenix Suns last year.

According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst on Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective (16:49 mark) on Friday, the idea of Harden declining his player option for next season and signing a new deal has been "floated" by some in the league.

Paul had a $44.2 million player option for this season, but he declined it and instead signed a four-year, $120 million contract with the Suns. That gave him less on a per-year basis, but gave him security for multiple years.

Per Spotrac, Harden has a $47.4 million player option for next season, but if he declines it and signs a more team-friendly deal, it could allow the Sixers to pursue another star to play alongside him and Joel Embiid.

Windhorst suggested that the 76ers would "love to entertain" a deal similar to Paul's with Harden since they could still give him a contract worth over $100 million while also creating some space for other additions.

It was also noted by Windhorst, though, that it is unclear if Harden would be open to the idea of taking less per season.

As a 10-time All-Star, three-time scoring champion and one-time NBA MVP who should still have some good years left at 32 years of age, Harden may want to sign a max extension.

Harden may also be able to get more than a Paul-type deal in free agency, so even if he does decline his player option, that may be more attractive to him than taking a discount of sorts.

In 21 regular-season games after the 76ers acquired Harden from Brooklyn, he took a backseat to Embiid from a scoring perspective, averaging 21.0 points per game.

He was an elite playmaker, however, with 10.5 assists per game, and also added 7.1 rebounds, 2.2 three-pointers made and 1.2 steals per contest.

Philly had hoped Harden would be the player needed to get over the hump and contend for a championship, which is why president of basketball operations Daryl Morey parted with Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and draft picks for him at the trade deadline.

The Sixers' playoff issues continued, however, as they were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the second round, marking the fifth straight season they were knocked out in the second round or earlier.

Most of the 76ers' key players are set to return next season with Embiid, Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle all under contract.

Harden returning would keep the entire core intact, but it could also make it difficult to make any other tweaks to the roster if he isn't willing to take less.

Paul taking less helped the Suns immensely, as they won 64 regular-season games and are one win away from the Western Conference Finals this season.

If Harden isn't willing to go in that direction, the Sixers are in line to largely have the same roster next season as they did this season, and that may not be enough to go the distance.