2023 Free Agency

Reports: James Harden opts into deal as 76ers explore trade options

The former Kia NBA MVP has reportedly picked up his contract option for next season.

James Harden reportedly has opted into the final year of his contract.

James Harden picked up his $35.6 million contract option for next season with the Philadelphia 76ers, with the franchise exploring trades to move the veteran scorer, per multiple reports.

Harden informed the 76ers of his choice Thursday ahead of the midnight deadline to pick up the option, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Preses on condition of anonymity because the decision was not made public.

The 33-year-old Harden could have declined the option and decided to try for free agency. The Sixers had the right to offer him a $210 million, four-year deal, $8 million more overall than any other team.

But the person who talked to the AP on anonymity Thursday said it was not definite Harden would be traded but that the player nicknamed The Beard expressed a desire to win a championship — which he has yet to do in his career — in Philadelphia or with another contender.

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the LA Clippers and New York Knicks are among the teams expected to show interest in landing Harden.

Nick Nurse, hired last month as Philadelphia’s coach, had stumped for Harden’s return. So did teammate Tobias Harris.

“James has a decision to make, and I’d be very happy if he came back,” Nurse said this month.

But it appears playing as the second option behind NBA MVP Joel Embiid and chasing a championship in Philly is no longer on the table.

Should a trade of Harden take place, this would mark his third trade since he requested a trade from the Houston Rockets in February 2021. Wojnarowski reports Harden had interest in a reunion with the Rockets this summer, but their focus is on pursuing Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.

Harden led the NBA in assists last season with 10.7 per game but it was his wildly fluctuating offense that frustrated Sixers fans and helped doom them in the Eastern Conference second-round loss to Boston.

Harden, acquired at the 2022 trade deadline from Brooklyn for Ben Simmons, scored 45 points in Game 1 and 42 in Game 4 victories against the Celtics. Harden, who turns 34 in August, and was 0 for 6 on 3s in Game 2 and Game 6 losses. He scored only nine points in Game 7, and he went scoreless in the second half.

Harden blossomed into an insolation superstar in Houston but has largely deferred to reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid with the Sixers. The Sixers and team president could run into a jam if they don’t re-sign Harden. The Sixers have limited salary cap space, making it all but impossible to sign a quality free agent, especially one with Harden’s pedigree.

So now they’ll look to get assets in a deal — a common factor in Harden’s career. If Harden is traded, per NBA rules, he would have to play under his 2023-24 contract and would be eligible for free agency until next season.

The Clippers and Heat have emerged as contenders in the Harden sweepstakes.

Harden is a 10-time All-Star but essentially forced his way with trades out of Houston and Brooklyn. Harden declined his $47.4 million player option with the 76ers for last season and instead agreed to a two-year deal that will paid him $32 million in 2022-23. It included a player option for this coming season. He opted out of an old deal ahead of last season to stay with the 76ers and made about $14.5 million less last season than he could have earned under his previous contract.

The seven-time All-NBA player is a member of the league’s 75th anniversary team.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.