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James Harden to decline player option, wants long-term deal in NBA free agency

James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers are coming off a premature exit in the 2023 NBA Playoffs, losing Game 7 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

For a team that fancied itself as a legitimate NBA title contender heading into the 2022-23 season. this loss has already had a trickle-down effect. Head coach Doc Rivers was fired after three up-and-down seasons with the organization.

Philadelphia could now be bracing for the departure of Harden during NBA free agency. According to Chris Haynes of Turner Sports, the former league MVP intends to decline his $35.6 million contract option for next season and hit the NBA free agent market. Haynes goes on to note that Harden, 33, will seek a four-year contract on the open market.

When Harden signed a team-friendly two-year, $68.64 million contract with Philadelphia last July, the expectation was that he’d pick up the player option for the 2023-24 campaign. Things have changed drastically since, primarily Philadelphia’s inability to become a legitimate NBA title contender.

Related: James Harden and the top 2023 NBA free agents

James Harden’s NBA free agency demands should be cause for alarm

james harden contract, nba free agency
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Harden will turn 34 years old in August, a little over a month before the 2023-24 season starts. Despite leading the Association in assists with 10.7 per game during the 2022-23 campaign, regression has been the name of the game for the 10-time All-Star:

  • James Harden stats (2022-23): 21.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 10.7 APG, 44% shooting, 39% 3-point

Harden’s point-per-game average represented his lowest figure since he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2011-12. Sure, a lot of that had to do with NBA MVP Joel Embiid’s presence on the 76ers’ roster. But there has to be some concern here.

If Harden is seeking a max contract in free agency, Philadelphia has to think long and hard about bypassing that possibility. Said deal would come in at $210.11 million over four seasons, handcuffing the team from a financial perspective long term.

Another team showing interest in Harden would also be on the books for $201.67 million over four seasons. Again, that would have some long-term financial implications.

Related: James Harden again shows he isn’t the star to help Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid win a title

James Harden and Houston Rockets rumors

james harden rumors, houston rockets nba free agency
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve read several rumors over the past months regarding a potential Harden return to the Houston Rockets. He played for the team from 2012 until early in the 2020-21 season.

However, it’s being noted that general manager Rafael Stone and Co. would have to change up its roster big time while appeasing Harden if the Rockets are really interested in signing him this summer.

“The Houston Rockets have long been a rumored destination, but sources say Harden will only entertain suitors that present a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself,” Chris Haynes report on James Harden impending free agency.

At this point, it remains to be seen what’s going to happen with Harden. What we do know is that he’s set to hit NBA free agency.

With Philadelphia’s coaching situation up in the air, that acts as a true wild card in the process. Meanwhile, Houston is certainly looking to expedite its rebuild after another 60-loss season. That dynamic could come into play big time.

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