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James Harden: Philadelphia 76ers guard agrees to take pay cut to help Sixers make title run

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James Harden in action during the NBA Playoffs
Image: James Harden in action during the NBA Playoffs

James Harden did not wow people with his play following his trade from the Brooklyn Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers , but now he may have wowed them for different reasons.

The former league MVP has rejected his player option, worth $47.4 million option for next season, and has done so in order to help the franchise best position itself to make a run at a championship.

Essentially, Harden is taking less money in the hopes that Philly can do more. By foregoing the money and opting out of his option, it allows 76ers president Daryl Morey more flexibility in his roster moves ahead of the new season.

Morey will now be able to offer free agents the $10.5 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception without any other moves, flexibility the front office chief would have had difficulty creating through trades.

That will be a major factor when the NBA opens the free agency negotiating window at 11pm on Thursday night, with Philadelphia among the teams that will be expected to target Miami forward PJ Tucker, among others.

We noted on Sky Sports a couple of months back, the real James Harden has yet to show up in Philadelphia. Or at least, what used to be the real James Harden hasn't.

But he returned to his workout and on-court regimen much sooner than usual this offseason, pouring his full focus on 2022-23 and a championship run, per Shams Charania.

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The most likely scenario for Harden now is this: The 10-time All-Star signs a new deal with Philadelphia, for something close to that $47.4 million number, after the team has addressed other needs and improved its chances of becoming a true championship contender in 2023. If Harden had opted in before his Wednesday afternoon deadline, Philadelphia would have had a much more difficult time in finding financial pathways toward luring free agents.

His decision on Wednesday night backed up what Harden said on May 12, when Philadelphia's season ended in the second round of the playoffs – a six-game loss to top-seeded Miami.

"I'll be here," Harden said that night when asked about his future. "Yeah, I'll be here. Whatever makes this team, whatever allows this team to continue to grow and get better and do the things necessary to win and compete at the highest level."

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid wipes his face during the second half of Game 5
Image: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid wipes his face during the second half of Game 5

The 32-year-old has stayed true to those words and now Philadelphia fans have hope again that they can build a fit around Harden and Joel Embiid that can truly contend for a championship – just a couple of months after it looked like the trade was a massive bust for the Sixers.

Harden is a three-time scoring champion and averaged 22.0 points and 10.3 assists during his time with Brooklyn and Philadelphia last season. The seven-time All-NBA player was the 2018 NBA MVP and a member of the league's 75th anniversary team.

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