Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

After weeks of guess-and-check speculation as to what James Harden’s new deal would look like, Philadelphia has an answer.

Harden agreed to a two-year deal worth $68.6 million with the Sixers on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

According to Wojnarowski, Harden will make $33 million in the 2022-23 season. The second year of the deal will consist of a player option worth $35.6 million. The increase suggests a raise just short of the maximum 8 percent from year 1 to year 2.

That figure represents a starting salary slightly higher than had previously been reported. Nonetheless, Harden’s agreement represents a 30 percent discount from his player option worth $47,366,760, the maximum salary he could’ve taken for the 2022-23 season. A commendable action, Harden put his money where he put his mouth at season’s end. “Whatever allows this team to continue to grow and get better and do the things necessary to win and compete at the highest level,” Harden said after the Sixers’ Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

As has been said over and over again, a pay cut of more than $14 million from that maximum enabled the Sixers to make significant additions to their roster. Those additions came in the form of veteran forward PJ Tucker and wing Danuel House Jr. Of equal importance is that Harden’s discount also provided the Sixers with some flexibility beyond adding Tucker and House:

Sixers 2022-23 salary sheet after Harden contract

You will notice some discrepancy between this total and what others have calculated. The difference lies in the addition of Trevelin Queen. According to Spotrac, Queen is guaranteed just $330,000 of a $1,637,966 salary for the 2022-23 season. The figure here includes only the guarantee, as that is for what the Sixers are on the hook right now. Others will include the total aforementioned salary.

The calculation done here says that Harden’s pay cut leaves the Sixers with $4,734,368 of space below the tax apron. Regardless of the calculation used, Philadelphia expensed the Non-taxpayer Mid-Level and Bi-Annual exceptions in free agency. So, the Sixers cannot exceed the $156,982,273 tax apron at any point during the current league year. They currently have $152,247,905 in obligations for the upcoming season.

The limited space the Sixers have left ultimately leaves them with two methods of improving their roster. Because Philadelphia is a tax team in 2022-23, they can take back 125 percent of the salary they send out in a trade, plus $100,000.

Alternatively, the Sixers could sign remaining free agents to veteran minimum contracts. Free agents of at least 2 years experience taking minimum contracts for next season count $1.719 million towards the cap. So, that means the Sixers can sign 2 free agents to such deals under their current salary cap restrictions. The only downside to that option is that the Sixers have to create roster space to facilitate a veteran minimum addition.

Perhaps the Sixers will make additional moves before the start of the season. But, President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has said that he doesn’t like to have his playoff roster set on opening night. With that in mind, perhaps the Sixers run with what they have and save their remaining financial flexibility for the trade deadline.

Either way, Philadelphia’s postseason formidability is dependent upon James Harden recovering a sizable chunk of his former self and Joel Embiid’s health. Those two variables, independent of each other, render the Sixers hopeless. Together, however, those two variables have a chance of pushing the Sixers to new heights. Still, the lasting memory of James Harden is quite disappointing. Yet, it’s not an outlier in Harden’s postseason history.

Harden has said and done all the right things after the disappointing finale to the 2022 playoffs. But, words don’t win championships. With a history of no-shows in the highest-leverage playoff games, Harden has to leave it all on the court when the lights are the brightest.

Harden is able to opt out of the second year of the deal and collect a much bigger payday next offseason. As such, he has a chance to re-write some of his own story.


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