According to sources from The Athletic, James Harden has made the decision to exercise his $35.6 million player option for the upcoming season, intending to collaborate with the Philadelphia 76ers on a trade that would allow him to depart from the team.
As per league sources, the Clippers and Heat are expected to emerge as potential suitors for the 10-time NBA All-Star. Given Harden’s previous exit from Houston after the 2020 season, teams around the league, as conveyed by those who spoke with The Athletic, understand that a player of his caliber is likely to end up at his preferred destination.
In fact, the 76ers have already initiated discussions with other teams to explore potential deals for Harden, as revealed by sources knowledgeable about the ongoing conversations.
Throughout the process, the 76ers have been transparent in expressing their lack of long-term plans involving Harden, indicating that they do not envision him as part of their future, according to sources.
Last season, the 33-year-old Harden achieved an average of 21 points and 10.7 assists per game. He was traded from Brooklyn to Philadelphia in 2022, alongside Paul Millsap, in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks. Harden agreed to a two-year, $68,640,000 contract with the 76ers prior to the previous season, accepting a pay cut of approximately $15 million during free agency.
Philadelphia concluded the 2022-23 season with a 54-28 record, reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals before being eliminated by the Celtics. As Harden enters his 15th season, he had enjoyed a remarkable run of 10 consecutive All-Star Game appearances until falling short in the 2022-23 season, although he maintained an All-Star level of play for the majority of the regular season. In the playoffs, he displayed moments of brilliance, such as his 45-point performance on the road in the Sixers’ second-round series against the Boston Celtics in the absence of Joel Embiid, as well as a 42-point, nine-assist outing in Game 4 of the same series. However, he also experienced some inconsistent and disappointing performances, particularly in Games 6 and 7 against Boston, along with subpar shooting near the rim in the first round against the Nets.
Despite not maintaining the same level of production as during his tenure with the Rockets, Harden remains renowned as one of the game’s premier passers and a constant threat to execute a stepback 3-pointer on any offensive possession. Although his highly efficient two-man game with Joel Embiid seems to have come to an end, the challenging aspect of a potential trade involving Harden lies in the 76ers’ desire to contend for a championship with Embiid as a key asset. While it is often simpler to trade star players when the objective is to acquire young talent, expiring contracts, and draft picks to rebuild, the presence of the reigning MVP on the roster does not prevent Philadelphia from considering deals centered around young players, expiring contracts, and draft assets. However, in order to accept such a package, the 76ers’ front office would need to have confidence in their ability to utilize those assets to acquire players who can contribute to their immediate success. It is reasonable to assume that any team interested in acquiring Harden, except perhaps the Rockets, would also be focused on making a serious title run.