The Philadelphia 76ers had started to look like they might be heading in the right direction over the last few years.
Now, they might actually be in a precarious spot.
The Sixers were bounced by the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs, and all the messaging from the players and Doc Rivers in the aftermath suggests that it’s a team rife with issues. Not the least among them is James Harden, who was acquired in the Ben Simmons trade but has shown a sharp decline and has an interesting contract situation.
Harden this offseason can sign a max extension with the 76ers, play out the last year of his deal at a roughly $47.4 million salary or opt out and become a free agent. At this point, the 76ers seem unlikely to make a long-term, high-priced commitment to Harden, and the guard choosing to hit the market instead of playing the last year out could result in a Dennis Schroder-type situation where he ends up leaving huge money on the table.
Appearing on “The Lowe Post” podcast, former executive and current ESPN NBA front office analyst Bobby Marks offered some insight into the situation, which he thinks is bleak for Philly.
"At the very least, he’s back for a year," Marks said. "I think we can all agree at the very least he will opt in to that contract as that insurance policy for $47.4 million and he will be back for another year. There is no marketplace for James Harden out there, for a $30 million player. You think San Antonio or Indiana or Detroit or Portland or one of these teams is going to pay that? No.
"So what Harden and Philadelphia have to do is (find) a compromise. Is there a compromise on a longer-term deal but at a significantly lower number? Is it $28 million, is it $29 million, is the last year not guaranteed? Maybe we get creative and put a games clause in there or Philadelphia reaching the NBA Finals and it protects them there. But for both sides, Harden opting in at that number is a lose-lose. For Harden it’s because there’s no guarantee what the next payday is going to be in 2023. Another year of James Harden if this decline continues, that marketplace is not going to be there.
"It’s a lose for Philadelphia from my perspective because if they think there’s another big whale out there they can try and go get, whether it be a Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine, you need Harden to take a significant salary drop, $18 million, $19 million -- if you think that there’s a Tobias Harris taker out there. The concern is that Harris has another year left. The market for teams wanting to take back another year of money with a new CBA on the horizon is not appealing as it once was. So, that would be the challenge.
Marks also pointed out that the 76ers in keeping Harden could end up further over the luxury tax. That could be a huge kick in the pants if they are doing so while not making their team much better.
Philly really, really needed the Harden-Joel Embiid-Tobias Harris combination to work. Maybe it will next season, but at this juncture it’s hard to be optimistic.