The Sixers found themselves bidding for James Harden for the second time in 14 months last week. This time, they didn’t come in second place. On Tuesday, they introduced the former MVP to the local media. Harden said all the right things during a press conference in which the floor was open to questions, mostly towards him, for close to 21 minutes.
Of all the things Harden said, the most important thing — for the sake of the Sixers getting the most bang for their buck — is that he indicated that he was happy. Not just once, but throughout his introduction.
That feeling is something that seemingly evaded him for more than a year.
“Originally, when I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice. It just didn’t happen. I don’t really want to get into the Brooklyn situation. I just knew for a very long time this was the perfect fit,” Harden said when asked why he wanted the more recent of his last two trades.
“Obviously, you have the best big man in the league in Joel. Obviously, the coaching. Just from top to bottom, it made sense. I’m just happy and blessed that I’m here. As Doc and everybody knows, everybody wants, is to win and be the last team standing. So, I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Of course, that might not be the last time Harden has to answer questions about his desire to be in Philly. After it was originally reported that he would pick up the option on his contract for next season, it was later revealed that the option was not picked up:
James Harden and the Sixers did not file the paperwork in time for Harden to opt-into his player option for next season before the trade became official, according to @ShamsCharania.— Philly Nation (@Philly__Nation) February 14, 2022
They still have the chance to do so in the summer. Belief is he will sign a max extension.
If Harden opts out, he can be a free agent. If he opts in, he’s locked into Philadelphia for next season. Regardless, a max extension to remain with the Sixers for years to come is in play.
Actions speak louder than words, but Harden assured the room that his long-term vision involved Philadelphia.
“I still have the opportunity to do it [opt-in],” Harden said when asked about missing the opportunity to do it last week. When asked if he would do it, Harden answered “Yes” before the question was even finished.
“Everything happened so fast, I just wanted to get here and take my time and, most importantly, focus on the end-game and that’s winning the championship.”
It’s fair to question Harden’s words. Much of the recent reporting indicated that Harden told the Nets he was committed to them. He then reportedly told GM Sean Marks and owner Joe Tsai that he wanted to be moved to Philly in the hours leading up to the deadline. Before the start of the 2019-20 season, reports indicated that Harden was committed to the Rockets. He then went on to force a trade from the Rockets.
There isn’t anything Harden can do now to change the past. But, that doesn’t mean that everything played out to his liking.
“It wasn’t planned like this. 14 months ago, I didn’t see myself on three different teams,” he said when asked about being on 3 teams in 14 months. “But we are here today, and I’m happy. Last year has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress.”
Part of the reported reasoning for his wanting out of Brooklyn was that he didn’t get why he signed up for. He wanted to be one of a three-pronged attack. The reality — due to injury and other circumstances — was that he was carrying most of the weight on the court, just like he did throughout his younger years in Houston.
At the end of the day, James Harden doesn’t appear eager to fly his own plane going forward. Rather, he’s looking to be a co-pilot.
“This team here, they have something great already going on, and I’m just here to contribute,” Harden said.
“And I know that I can do that very well.”