The Philadelphia 76ers' season ended Thursday after losing 99-90 to the Miami Heat to cap a six-game series loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Philadelphia has many offseason questions to address following the disappointing ending, including the long-term status of James Harden, who has a 2022-23 player option and can become a free agent in 2023.
At the moment, it appears the 76ers will not be offering him a long-term deal, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst:
Get Up @GetUpESPN
.<a href="https://twitter.com/WindhorstESPN?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WindhorstESPN</a> says to pump the brakes on Harden returning to Philadelphia next season with a max deal.<br><br>"Nobody in the NBA believes that the Sixers are going to give James Harden a max contract.” <a href="https://t.co/vASDx6p0ek">pic.twitter.com/vASDx6p0ek</a>
Harden told reporters postgame that he'll "be here," implying he'll stick around for at least one more season.
The 32-year-old averaged 21.0 points on 40.2 percent shooting and 10.5 assists in 21 regular-season games for the 76ers after the Brooklyn Nets traded him to Philadelphia in a blockbuster deal that notably saw Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond leave Philly.
Harden struggled mightily in his final 16 regular-season matchups, shooting just 36.5 percent from the field en route to 19.9 points, 9.9 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game, according to Basketball Reference.
He wasn't much better in the playoffs with 18.6 points on 40.5 percent shooting, 8.6 assists and 5.7 boards per game. Harden notably had just 25 points on 9-of-22 shooting in the final two games against Miami.
Harden is a future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, the 2017-18 NBA MVP, a 10-time All-Star and a three-time scoring champion, so he certainly sports a resume that would make a team feel comfortable giving him a long-term extension.
The problem is Harden simply hasn't played well for two months. Per Danny Leroux of The Athletic, Harden could hypothetically procure a "maximum total contact value of $274.7 million" over five years. That's a massive investment for any player, but it's a scary proposition to give that to Harden following his late-season struggles. Plus, Harden would be 37 years old at the end of the deal.
In fairness to Harden, a full offseason and training camp with the 76ers could help rejuvenate him in 2022-23 after joining midway through this year. He's one of the best players and scorers in the game at his best, and the Joel Embiid-Harden duo can still work out.
For now, the 76ers have a big decision to make as they search for answers yet again.