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NBA free agency 2022: James Harden reportedly declines $47M option with 76ers, intends to return on new deal

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James Harden will decline the $47.4 million option on his contract for the 2022-23 NBA season with the Philadelphia 76ers, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. He intends to work out a new contract with the team when NBA free agency opens, per the report.

He was always eligible this offseason for a maximum contract worth roughly $270 million over the next five years, regardless of whether or not he picked up the option, and that remains the case after this decision.

Asked in the aftermath of this past season if he plans to stay in Philadelphia, Harden said, "I'll be here."

Offering Harden anything close to his max salary would mean wildly overpaying a one-time MVP in steep decline. His average has dipped from a historically efficient 33.7 points per game from 2017-20, when he led the league in scoring each year, to 22 points on 41/33/88 shooting splits in 65 games for the Sixers and Brooklyn Nets last season. His production during Philadelphia's second-round playoff exit was worse.

This coming season will send James Harden's career earnings north of $300 million. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
This coming season will send James Harden's career earnings north of $300 million. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Over the past two years, Harden has quit on the Nets and Houston Rockets, reporting to both teams out of shape and forcing trades from each. It is no coincidence he has battled hamstring injuries since April 2021.

Harden left a chance to win a championship with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder in favor of a more prominent role with the Rockets in 2012. The move translated to incredible statistical and financial success, as six top-five MVP finishes sent his career earnings north of $300 million.

His heliocentric brand of basketball has also fractured partnerships with All-NBA stars Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Westbrook, Durant and Kyrie Irving over the past six years. Still, the Sixers tied prime years of back-to-back MVP runner-up Joel Embiid to Harden in a February trade that sent Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round draft picks to the Nets. The move was made by former Rockets and current Sixers executive Daryl Morey, who has linked his career to Harden's for a decade.

The hope is that Harden's recommitment to Morey will result in a healthy career resurgence for a 33-year-old. The question is how much longer Philadelphia wants to tie the careers of Embiid and Harden together.

Harden indicated at season's end he could be open to a contract that pays him less than his full max, telling reporters, "Whatever allows this team to grow and get better and do the things necessary to win."

Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported earlier this month that Harden and the Sixers were expected to reach an agreement on a shorter-term contract extension this summer, and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski later confirmed that report, hinting at "a significant commitment" that runs through the 2024-25 season.

That would bring Embiid past his 31st birthday and halfway through the four-year maximum contract extension he recently signed. Embiid has made clear anything short of a championship is a failure in his mind, and Harden has delivered everything but a title. Something must give next season, or the Sixers run the risk of losing a disgruntled franchise player to trade demands, a feeling familiar to Morey in Houston.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach