On Wednesday, star point guard James Harden declined his $47.4 million player option with the Philadelphia 76ers to give the team more financial flexibility, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Harden’s sole focus: Win a title in Philadelphia next season. Harden returned to his workout and on-court regimen much sooner than usual this offseason, pouring his full focus on 2022-23 and a championship run. <a href="https://t.co/8muicTaJx6">https://t.co/8muicTaJx6</a>
But what does it mean for both Harden, the 76ers and the NBA at large?
The Sixers Will Have Cap Flexibility to Improve the Roster
The Sixers were a scary team with their starters on the floor after Harden was acquired in a February trade with the Brooklyn Nets, but the team's depth was another story entirely. Improving in that area was a huge need, but it would have been a far more difficult endeavor had Harden exercised his option.
The team already pulled off a draft-day trade to land guard De'Anthony Melton, a player who will add athleticism and defense. The Sixers have also been linked to veteran forward P.J. Tucker, though before Harden's opt-out, it was unclear how the team would be able to manipulate the salary cap to offer him a competitive deal.
Marc Stein @TheSteinLine
As forecasted here earlier this week, James Harden indeed has opted out of his current contract in expectation of signing a cap-friendlier Sixers deal to help facilitate Philadelphia's widely anticipated signing of P.J. Tucker.<br><br>My story on that scenario: <a href="https://t.co/xZBxoVNeAP">https://t.co/xZBxoVNeAP</a> <a href="https://t.co/XS3RCN91c7">https://t.co/XS3RCN91c7</a>
That's no longer a question. Harden's decision will give Philadelphia's front office much more financial wiggle room this offseason as it seeks to add much-needed depth.
Which Harden Will Return to Philly?
With Joel Embiid firmly in his prime after being the runner-up for MVP two seasons in a row, the Sixers' window to win a title is right now. The Harden trade was always in the service of taking advantage of that window.
But the Harden who arrived in Philadelphia wasn't the scoring machine he had been in the past, averaging 21.0 points during 21 regular-season games with the team and just 18.6 points per contest in the postseason. For Harden, those numbers weren't up to his previous standards.
He remained an elite playmaker, and it's clear that he doesn't want to be the one-man show he often had to be in Houston. But the Sixers need a more aggressive score than the one Harden was in his first stint with the Sixers to take some of the pressure off Embiid.
The pick-and-roll between those two players was fantastic, and another year of working together should only improve it. But much of the Sixers' title hopes will likely come down to Harden's ability to provide a consistent secondary threat on offense.
Harden Wants That Ring
Giving up a guaranteed $47 million payday is no small thing, even if a lucrative extension is clearly on the horizon. But that extension seems likely to leave money on the table as well to give the Sixers cap flexibility.
That's the sort of move you make if your goal is to win a title.
The 32-year-old has made around $268 million in his NBA career on salary earnings alone, per Spotrac. What he hasn't earned, however, is a title. This move will make that goal a little bit easier to achieve.