The last couple of years have been a whirlwind for James Harden.
Following eight seasons in Houston where he established himself as a superstar and won an MVP award, Harden was traded to the Nets at the start of the 2020-21 season. His time in Brooklyn was short-lived, as he was traded to the 76ers midway through the 2021-22 season.
Will Harden’s time in Philadelphia also be short-lived? He has one more season on his contract, but it’s a player option, making him a potential unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Ahead of free agency opening on June 30, let’s take a closer look at Harden’s current contract, what he stands to make moving forward, strengths and weaknesses at this point of his career and finally, where he could land if he decides to move on from the 76ers.
James Harden’s contract details
Money talks. And given the massive financial stakes at play both for Harden and the 76ers, this is where the conversation starts.
Harden has a $47.4 million player option in his contract for the 2022-23 season. As it stands heading into free agency, that would make him the NBA’s second-highest paid player next season behind only Stephen Curry.
If Harden opts out of his player option, he’s eligible for a five-year, $270 million contract with the 76ers. If he opts into his player option, he’s eligible for a four-year, $230 million extension with the 76ers.
Should Harden opt out and leave, the most he can sign with another team is four years, $200.1 million.
Either way, the 76ers have a quarter of a billion dollar decision to make. This is where Harden’s age and current production factors heavily into what happens next.
James Harden strengths and weaknesses
Let’s start with the good. A member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team, Harden is one of the best scorers and passers of all time. He’s led the league in scoring three times in his career, the fourth-most ever. He’s also led the league in assists once, making him one of only seven players to win both a scoring and assist title in their careers.
At his best, Harden is a particularly good one-on-one scorer and he gets to the free-throw line at a rate few players can match. For most of his career, surrounding Harden with three shooters and a lob threat has been the recipe for an elite offense.
Since injuring his hamstring near the end of the 2020-21 season, Harden hasn’t been the scorer that he once was. He’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 22.0 points per game, his fewest since he was a member of the Thunder. His efficiency has also declined significantly. He connected on 33.0 percent of his 3-point opportunities in 2021-22 and wasn’t nearly as effective finishing around the basket. His hamstring injury seems to have robbed him of some of his burst and speed.
Those are some worrying signs for someone who has racked up a ton of miles to this point of their career and is entering their mid-30s.
Additionally, Harden has never been known for his defense. He’s strong enough to defend bigger players and has long checked out as a stout post defender, but he struggles to get around screens and has a tendency to fall asleep when he’s off-ball. He’s at his best in a scheme built around switching.
How old is James Harden?
James Harden turns 33 years old in August and will be entering his 14th NBA season. He averaged 22.0 PPG last season, his lowest since his third season when he came off the bench in Oklahoma City.
As TSN’s Steph Noh recently explained, future projections for Harden given his age are not pretty.
James Harden possible teams and best fits
The problem Harden faces is that there aren’t many teams projected to have enough cap space to sign a star of his caliber, and the ones that do probably won’t be interested in adding him to their roster.
The Pistons, for example, are playing the long game by rebuilding around Cade Cunningham and whoever they select with the No. 5 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Grizzlies don’t have a lottery pick, but would they want to pair Ja Morant with Harden? It looks like the Pacers are in the business of trading veterans, not acquiring them.
The one team that has cap space and is looking to be aggressive this offseason is the Trail Blazers. However, they just traded for Jerami Grant so that likely removes them from the list of suitors.
Harden’s best bet might be re-signing with the 76ers, both for financial reasons and for an opportunity to compete for a championship.
James Harden news, rumors and latest updates
To no surprise, the most likely outcome seems to be Harden sticking with the 76ers.
According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, 76ers ownership has been “resistant” to the idea of giving Harden a long-term contract, but “all signs point toward” him returning on a shorter-term contract extension.
Harden has until June 29 to decide if he’s picking up his player option for the 2022-23 season.