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James Harden and 76ers ‘exploring’ trades after star opts into contract, Clippers and Knicks in pursuit

In a shocking turn of events, Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden chose to opt into the final year of his contract as part of a plan between the NBA star and the organization to send him to another organization this summer.

For months, the expectation was that James Harden would opt out of the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers and look to land a more robust deal after giving the franchise a discount rate last summer. And at 33 years old, there are likely few opportunities left for the 10-time All-Star to land a massive pact from an interested team.

Related: NBA trade rumors – The latest rumblings from around the NBA

Since the end of last year, reports claimed that a return to the Houston Rockets this summer seemed very possible. However, the narrative shifted over the last couple of weeks to a likely opt-out of his current deal and a new long-term agreement with Philadelphia. Yet, that idea was completely turned upside down on Thursday.

James Harden is expected to be traded by the Philadelphia 76ers this summer

james harden
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report that James Harden will surprisingly opt into the $35.6 million left on the final year of his contract with the 76ers. However, it is not to play with the team next season. The organization and the future Hall-of-Famer are now expected to “explore” trade scenarios to send Harden elsewhere this summer.

Following his original report. Wojnarowski added that the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers are expected to be two of the teams that will pursue James Harden in this completely unexpected trade market.

Sports Illustrated NBA reported Chris Mannix claimed after the news that the Philadelphia 76ers
“are already casting a wide net” for potential trade partners and have engaged with multiple teams on a swap that will bring back “players that will fit alongside Joel Embiid.”

  • James Harden stats (’22-’23): 21.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 10.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 39% 3PT

Why is James Harden opting in instead of testing NBA free agency?

The plan to now find a trade destination instead of testing his value in NBA free agency is curious at first glance but is a move with a clear purpose. There are only a few teams that have enough salary cap space to give James Harden the type of money he is looking for. Unfortunately for him, organizations like the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and Indiana Pacers are unlikely to be serious title contenders if they sign him this summer.

However, in a trade, the options to play on a contending team next season become far more interesting since organizations that don’t currently have the cap space to sign him outright can move contracts to get him. It is a clever play by Harden but also means that one of the greatest players of the last decade will now be on his fourth different team in as many seasons.