James Harden left money on the table to re-sign with the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason, which has some in the NBA questioning if there is a secret arrangement with the team.
"There is a suspicion in some corners of the league that Harden had to have consented to this arrangement because he also secured a wink-wink guarantee about the future — meaning a promise from Morey that would allow Harden to recoup what he left on the table this offseason by declining the player option for next season in his new Sixers deal and then signing a whopper of a five-year deal in the summer of 2023 at almost 34. Such speculation is inevitable given how close Morey and Harden clearly are, but I've also heard plenty around the league question whether the Sixers, beyond the fact that these types of arrangements are against league rules, could actually bring themselves to give Harden any assurances."
Harden declined a $47.4 million player option for next season before signing a two-year, $68.6 million deal with Philadelphia. He is set to make $33 million in 2022-23 and will have a $35.6 million player option for the following year.
The reduced salary for next year allowed the 76ers to add veterans like P.J. Tucker and Danuel House in free agency.
Harden has a close relationship with 76ers president Daryl Morey dating back to their eight years together with the Houston Rockets, which has led to speculation about a secret agreement between the two for a future deal. It's not common for a superstar to voluntarily take less money.
On the other hand, Harden already explained that his concessions were based on his will to create a winning team.
"I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over," Harden told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. "This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all that matters to me at this stage. I’m willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that."
Harden is a 10-time All-Star, three-time scoring champion and one-time MVP, but he is still searching for his first NBA title. Considering he's already made over $268 million in his career, it's not surprising to see him cut a little salary to finally get a ring.
The 32-year-old is also coming off a disappointing year with the 76ers and Brooklyn Nets. He dealt with nagging hamstring injuries and finished the season averaging a combined 22.0 points per game, while his 41.0 field-goal percentage was his worst since his rookie season.
It makes the new deal a smart one for the player. It secures more guaranteed money in case the struggles continue while also leaving an option to hit the open market again in 2023 if he returns to form.
Opposing teams might not want to see Philadelphia sign Harden at a discount, but it appears to be the best-case scenario for all sides.