Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

After radio silence following their activity in the first hour of free agency last Thursday, the Sixers seem to be approaching a deal to return free agent guard James Harden. 

The Athletic‘s Shams Charania reported on Friday afternoon:

Sources: James Harden is taking a $15 million pay cut for next season that allowed Philadelphia to elevate roster — with sole focus on a championship run in 2023. Harden opted out of his $47M player option and now plans to sign a new two-year deal with a player option in Year 2. [Twitter]

He added:

Everyone around Harden has understood the focus on his workout regimen this offseason and a championship goal for 2022-23. His close relationships with those around the organization, including Michael Rubin and Daryl Morey, played a major role in trust between the two sides. [Twitter]

Various reports followed Charania’s with the clarification that a deal between Harden and the Sixers has yet to be finalized. Regardless, the framework and estimated salary figures on the deal are out there now.

A cut of $15 million off the player option would indicate that Harden’s salary is somewhere in the neighborhood of $32.4 million. Spotrac, however, estimates a salary of $32,692,308 in 2022-23. The estimated player option in the second year of the deal’s framework is $35,307,692. That makes for an assumed pay raise from the first year to the second year of a hair below the maximum 8 percent.

Those estimated annual figures make for a total of $68,000,000 over the 2 years. 

Simply put, Harden is doing something that many stars are too prideful to do. He’s accepting the reality that his play this past season did not warrant $47.4 million or a max deal. But, he isn’t taking a slight discount that doesn’t do much to help improve the team. Rather, Harden gave the Sixers the space needed to make relatively significant moves. That space, of course, went to PJ Tucker (Non-taxpayer midlevel exception) and Danuel House Jr. (Bi-annual exception).

This isn’t to say that the bearded guard deserves a halo around his head or doesn’t have designs of eventually getting a bigger payday. Rather, the player option in the second year is him betting on himself. If all goes well and Harden proves that he can return to a shade of his Houston self, he could very easily opt out and sign a new max deal with the Sixers or another team. If it doesn’t go as planned or he continues to regress, he can take his option. After that, he would re-sign for (significantly) less or move on.

A two-year arrangement also keeps the Sixers safe from destroying themselves from a salary cap standpoint if Harden is unable to rediscover his former greatness. 

Barring an injury, the framework of this deal plays out very favorably for Philadelphia. The only downside is that next summer is another round of “What’s going to happen with Harden?”. Think I’ve had enough of that game for quite some time.

The Sixers project to have approximately $5,072,060 below the tax apron for the 2022-23 league year:

Sixers salary sheet 2022-23

Veteran minimum contracts only count $1.719 million towards the cap. That figure leaves the Sixers with enough space to sign roughly two veteran minimum deals to fill out their regular-season roster. Alternatively, Philadelphia could make trades that see them taking on $5,072,060 more in salary than what they send out. 

A pay cut to that extent left the Sixers with more flexibility than some expected they would have. Nothing is etched in stone yet. But, it makes you wonder if there’s another move to come.


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