Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden has decided to opt out of his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season in order to return to the franchise on a free-agent contract that gives the team financial flexibility to bolster the roster, sources tell The Athletic.
Harden made the decision in recent weeks and communicated a clear goal to 76ers officials: winning a championship in Philadelphia next season. Harden opting out and taking less opens up a path for the 76ers to make legitimate upgrades for their roster for the upcoming season, beginning Thursday night when the free-agency period opens.
Lowering Harden's salary from $47.4 million allows 76ers president Daryl Morey to offer free agents the $10.5 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception without any other moves, flexibility Morey would have had difficulty creating by trading players already on guaranteed contracts.
The 76ers acquired Harden in a blockbuster trade deadline deal with the Brooklyn Nets and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals before a series loss to the Miami Heat. Harden’s co-star, MVP candidate Joel Embiid, missed the first two games of the 76ers’ defeat to the Heat in six games. Harden, 32, is coming off his 10th All-Star team in 13 seasons, averaging 22 points, 10.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game in the 2021-22 campaign.
In 12 playoff games, Harden’s averages dipped to 18.6 points, 8.6 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Across the 76ers and Harden’s camp, there’s been tremendous belief around the seven-time All-NBA star having a complete and healthy offseason this summer ahead of the 2022-23 season. In the 2020 offseason, the NBA had a shortened summer due to the bubble season. Last year, Harden was recovering from a Grade 2 hamstring injury that he played through during Brooklyn's seven-game series against Milwaukee in the second round.
Multiple sources said Harden returned to his workout and on-court regimen much sooner than usual this offseason, and has been ramping up his conditioning and training as the summer progresses. Typically, NBA players take time off before entering their offseason schedule, but Harden returned to his training just two weeks after the season ended on May 12. 76ers assistant Sam Cassell has spent extensive time running Harden’s regimen this summer, sources said.