What the 76ers were, or are, going to do with James Harden after they traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond to get him represents a pretty sticky dilemma. He’s not worth a max contract anymore, at least not based on his performance in both Brooklyn and Philadelphia last season. But Philly, with what it gave up and its inability to replace Harden via other avenues, simply cannot lose him.
It looks like Harden, who has already declined his $47.3 million player option for the upcoming season, and the Sixers are prepared to meet in the middle with Harden getting the security of a longer-term deal but at a lower annual salary.
Wednesday night, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Harden, who would be eligible to sign a max deal in the high $47-48M range, is willing to reduce his annual salary demands into the “mid-30s.”
What the lower salary means for the Sixers is it allows them to use the non-taxpayer MLE, which is projected to be a little over $10M. Using the MLE triggers a hard cap. So in essence, Harden is going to trim just enough off his annual salary to give the Sixers room to sign, for instance, a PJ Tucker for around $10M a year while remaining under the hard cap.
This is the the right compromise. Harden is still going to make a ton of money, probably near $100 million on this next contract, and the Sixers have room to go out and make their team better when free agency starts on Thursday evening.