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3 Instant Reactions to James Harden Taking $15M Pay Cut on New 76ers Contract

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVJuly 8, 2022

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

James Harden is back with the Philadelphia 76ers—and at a significant discount.

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Harden reached a two-year contract with a player option that includes a $15 million pay cut from the $47.3 million he was originally supposed to make in 2022-23.

Here are some quick takeaways from that deal and what it means for the Sixers.


Harden Committed to Exorcising Playoff Demons

Listen.

Folks.

I recognize it's hard for any regular person to feel bad about a person making more than $30 million per year.

But James Harden just gave up fifteen million American dollars so that the Sixers could field a more competitive roster. Not $1.5 million. Fifteen million. The highest-paid player in the NHL will make $13 million next season, and Harden tossed more than that aside so that the Sixers could bring in P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr.

Harden has taken his share of criticism in recent years, and most of it has been fair. He's shown up to camp out of shape. He forced not one but two different trades in the span of 13 months. The way he left Houston—highlighted by partying it up with Lil Baby at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic—was unbecoming. His playoff failures are numerous.

If Harden would have come back at his full salary next season and performed as he did in the 2022 postseason, it's likely we would have had a Simmonsian revolt on our hands in Philadelphia.

Instead, Harden plunked $15 million down on the table, told Daryl Morey to go buy himself some new toys and shifted the narrative. You can't say Harden is not fully committed to winning in Philadelphia. This level of salary sacrifice is borderline unheard of in sports history and is regularly discouraged by agents and the players association.

It is a full-fledged, full-throated commitment to the Sixers organization and its fans. Even if Harden never returns to MVP-caliber form, he's (literally) bought himself a ton of goodwill in both Philadelphia and in the NBA at large with this move.


Harden Is Going to Get Paid Next Summer

As much as Harden deserves praise for taking a massive pay cut for this upcoming season, there's almost certainly a wink-wink-nudge-nudge going on here.

Harden can opt out of his contract again following the 2022-23 campaign, and he will almost certainly do so barring injury. The Sixers will be able to maintain their Bird Rights and re-sign Harden to a max contract at 35 percent of the cap—a deal that would start at around $46.6 million if the NBA's $133 million projection proves correct.

Harden's re-signing at this lower number is more of a cap mechanism than anything. The Sixers would not have been able to utilize their full mid-level exception (Tucker) and their biannual exception (House) had Harden returned on his original $47.3 million salary. They would have been consigned to the taxpayer mid-level, which would have taken them out of the running for Tucker and made them unable to sign House unless he was willing to take the veteran's minimum.

It stands to reason that the Sixers plan on operating as a tax team after next season. Morey will likely spend much of the 2022-23 campaign attempting to wheel and deal right up to the tax apron, with the understanding that things are going to get awfully expensive the following summer.

Should Harden return to his All-NBA form, the Sixers would go over the tax to re-sign him to a max contract and then still have their taxpayer mid-level available for a role player. The salary cut for Harden is a temporary one-year blip that will allow the Sixers to have Tucker, House and another mid-level role player come 2023-24.


The Sixers Are a Title Contender—But Not a Favorite

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Harden: "We're running for a title if I take a pay cut right?"<br><br>Daryl Morey: <a href="https://t.co/x5svTUpucr">pic.twitter.com/x5svTUpucr</a>

With the $15 million provided by Harden, here is what Morey purchased:

  1. a 37-year-old who has never averaged 10 points or 10 rebounds per game in a season.
  2. a 29-year-old former undrafted player who was let go by two teams and playing on 10-day contracts for most of last season.

Harden was clearly excited to have Tucker as a teammate again, and House played well once he landed on his feet late last season in Utah. That said, there's a solid argument to be made that the Sixers could have spent those two exceptions on better players.

Tucker played well last season in Miami, but he's an aging role player. Any slight slippage, and his three-year deal could become a mistake. Tucker will bring emotional leadership that doesn't show up on the box score, but the Sixers need an actual basketball player, not their own version of Udonis Haslem.

Morey not signing House last season—which, frankly, was a bit of a surprise—proved to be a mistake. The Sixers could have had early Bird Rights on House and then been able to use their biannual exception on another player.

Even if the Sixers get the absolute maximum value out of Tucker and House, they are not ceiling-raising players. They are plug-and-play role players who are to stand stationary and knock down threes on offense and play rugged defense on the other end.

The Sixers will only go as far as Joel Embiid and Harden take them. The version of Harden that showed up to last season's playoffs is not good enough to be the second-best player on a championship team.

Harden's commitment to the team needs to be more than financial. He needs to come into camp in shape, motivated and ready to prove his growing list of doubters wrong. If he has some of the Houston Harden magic left in him, then the Sixers will have the NBA's best one-two punch next season and a legitimate shot at winning a title.

If what we saw last season was the new version of Harden, then no amount of money given away will be enough to raise the ceiling.

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