This went against the previous reporting that stated Harden would opt-in.
As well as the story reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania at the midseason deadline that Harden and his team filed the paperwork, but “did not meet the buzzer for the opt-in”.
So what changed since these reports came out?
Woj on James Harden: “In Harden’s mind opting out of that deal and then negotiating a new contract gives the Sixers financial flexibility to improve this team. He’s committed to winning.”
— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) June 29, 2022
Or were the reports not accurate to begin with?
There are two reasons that makes the most sense.
Because a 32-year-old superstar who has been hampered the past two years taking a pay cut does not make much sense.
At a June 24 presser with Daryl Morey, he was asked about where negotiations stood regarding Harden’s contract.
Morey replied that while the sides cannot legally discuss terms yet, “it’s a mutual love fest, so we feel like we’ll work it out.”
This “mutual love fest” dates to Harden’s time with the Houston Rockets.
Daryl Morey on James Harden’s contract: “It’s a mutual love fest, so we feel like we’ll work it out.”
— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) June 24, 2022
It was Morey who orchestrated the trade to acquire Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Across eight seasons together, Morey and Harden formed a strong relationship.
The Rockets were one of the best teams in the Western Conference, making the Western Conference Finals two times and perhaps being a Chris Paul hamstring injury away from a Finals appearance.
Morey publicly supported Harden consistently, even going so far as stating “it’s just factual” that Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan.
Harden also signed the richest contract in NBA history at the time back in 2017.
Morey gave him a four-year, $228 million contract after Harden’s MVP season.
And after one-and-a-half seasons apart, Harden and Morey were reunited in Philly this past season.
It is clear there is a special bond between Morey and Harden.
If Morey asked Harden to opt-out to draft a new deal, that relationship and trust could have been a big reason why Harden agreed.
Harden Backing Up His Winning Talk
Athletes will always say they are willing to do whatever it takes to win a title.
But when the time comes to shave a little off their contract to better the surrounding talent, most balk and take the money.
This is not a bad thing at all – these players earned their contracts and should be paid what they are worth.
Harden seems to be going a step further.
If he had opted into his player option, the Sixers would not have had room to sign rumored target P.J. Tucker.
In order to sign Tucker, they would have had to trade away ~$4 million in salary, and even then, they would have been hard capped with little room to make midseason adjustments.
However, the Sixers’ ability to better the roster improves substantially from Harden opting out and taking a pay cut.
If the rumors are true and Harden accepts a deal that pays him between $35 – $40 million annually, the Sixers can improve the depth of the roster without sacrificing rotational pieces already on the roster.
Philly would have access to the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception (~$10 million annually) and the biannual exception (~$4.2 million annually).
The Sixers reportedly will also be armed with the $4.1M bi-annual exception in addition to the full MLE — which they will reportedly use on PJ Tucker. My free agency primer includes targets at the minimum, the full MLE and anywhere in between, including the now-available BAE.
— Adam Aaronson (@SixersAdam) June 29, 2022
The non-taxpayer MLE is significantly more than the taxpayer midlevel exception (~$6 million annually).
And the BAE is significantly more than the veteran minimum (~$2.5 million).
This gives the Sixers a leg up on other contending teams to sign talent to the supporting cast.
After the season ended, Harden said he will do “whatever it takes to help this team continue to grow.”
“The Beard” is proving he does more than just talking about wanting to win.