Why James Harden opting into his player option, delaying an extension would be best-case scenario for 76ers

James Harden’s future with the franchise is the most pressing issue facing the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason. Harden, 32, has a $47 million player option for next season that he could pick up, and he’s also eligible for a monster max extension, so there are several ways that his future in Philadelphia could play out financially.

The Sixers could sign Harden to an extension just to trade him — also known as a sign-and-trade. Or, the team could cut ties completely, if he turns down his existing option. Neither of those options seems especially likely, though, given Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey’s affinity for Harden, and the steep price they paid to acquire him. When the Sixers traded for Harden in February, the plan was to keep him in a Sixers uniform long-term, and that hasn’t changed, according to Morey.  

“That’s the plan is to have him back. That’s been the plan since the trade,” Morey said of Harden following Philadelphia’s postseason loss to Miami. “Obviously, we have to work with his representation and that’ll be between us to figure out how that works… He’s an incredibly talented player just like Joel [Embiid], just like Tobias [Harris], and I’m excited for Doc [Rivers] and his staff to have a whole offseason, work with the players, and come up with the best plan for the roster.”

So, assuming the Sixers plan to hold on to Harden, they still have a couple of options, depending on what he decides to do regarding his option. If he opts in to the option, the Sixers could add additional years after the ’22-23 season with an extension, or they could give him an entirely new deal if he declines the option. However, the best-case scenario for the Sixers would probably be if Harden simply opted into his option and delayed an extension until next offseason.

Given his performance during the postseason, the Sixers should have some reservations regarding Harden’s long-term outlook as an impactful player. He’s still extremely effective as a playmaker and a floor-spacer, but he doesn’t appear to be the same lethal scorer that he once was when he was a perennial MVP candidate as a member of the Houston Rockets. That Harden would command a maximum extension, no questions asked. With the current version of Harden, it’s not so clear-cut.

Author: Lucy Green