The Philadelphia 76ers had an active offseason, retaining their core group but working diligently to upgrade their depth around them. Keeping James Harden was the most important part of the summer, but how much money he took would dictate just how much they would be able to offer free agents to upgrade the roster.
Harden, for his part, took a pay cut off of what he could’ve made, declining his $47 million player option to take a two-year, $64 million deal (with a player option for 2023-24). Taking less than he could’ve made next year allowed Philly to go out and sign PJ Tucker, adding the tenacious defender Joel Embiid and company desperately wanted, and they used the rest to add Danuel House (as Daryl Morey continues to get the band back together from his Houston days) and Trevelin Queen on smaller deals, while flipping the injured Danny Green to Memphis along with a first for De’Anthony Melton.
Having a star player with that much trust in the front office, after less than a year with the team, to take less and trust that the right deal would get worked out is a rarity, but Harden and Morey’s track record going back to the Rockets days allowed for that kind of dialogue. It also helps that Harden is at a stage in his career where he’s most focused on winning, as he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo that his message to Morey was simple: spend what you need to spend and give me what’s left.
“I had conversations with Daryl, and it was explained how we could get better and what the market value was for certain players. I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over,” Harden told Yahoo Sports. “This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all that matters to me at this stage. I’m willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that.”
It’s an admirable position from Harden, and one that the Sixers figure to benefit from (provided, of course, Harden is back at full strength for a full year). While he did take less in the short term, there is some advantage on his end to signing the two-year deal in Philly that guarantees him the ability to pick up a $32 million option next summer should he continue to struggle with the hamstring injury that has hampered him the past two seasons. Coloring Harden’s decision as a completely altruistic one would be disingenuous, but he certainly put his money where his mouth is when it comes to ensuring the Sixers could spend to upgrade the roster and that’s commendable. We’ll find out how much ground the Sixers made up on the rest of the East’s best this coming season, and while the new additions are nice, much of the pressure lies on the shoulders of Harden to be better come playoff time.