After weeks of negotiation, All-Star guard James Harden has agreed to return to the Philadelphia 76ers on a two-year deal worth $68.6 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. Harden will have a player option for the second year.
Harden, who was traded to the Sixers ahead of the deadline last season in a blockbuster deal that sent Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets, declined his $47.3 million option for next season in order to hit free agency. His annual salary of around $34 million for this new deal represents a significant discount.
While Harden will lose money in the short term, he should make it up in the long run. He'll now be able to opt out and enter free agency again next summer when more teams will have max cap space and he can earn up to $46.5 million per year. He also said he made this decision in order to help the Sixers win.
"I had conversations with [team president] Daryl [Morey], and it was explained how we could get better and what the market value was for certain players. I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over," Harden said in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports. "This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That's all that matters to me at this stage. I'm willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that."
A championship is the only major item missing from Harden's resume. He has been to the conference finals four times in his career, twice with the Oklahoma City Thunder and twice with the Houston Rockets. Just once did he make it to the Finals, however -- 2012 with the Thunder, when they lost to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
While Harden's teams often lost to better opponents in those series, he also has a history of underperforming in big moments in the playoffs. Last season's second-round loss to the Miami Heat in six games was the latest example. With Joel Embiid out for the first two games, and playing through multiple severe injuries the rest of the way, the Sixers needed Harden to step up. Aside from Game 4, he didn't do it. He averaged 18.2 points on 40.5 percent shooting for the series and didn't score in the fourth quarter in Game 5 or 6.
Thanks to Harden's discount, the Sixers were able to add PJ Tucker, Danuel House and reigning G League MVP Trevelin Queen in free agency. They also traded for versatile guard De'Anthony Melton on draft night. With those additions and a healthy Embiid, the Sixers will have a chance to compete with the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks at the top of the Eastern Conference.
But even with a better supporting cast, the Sixers' fate ultimately depends on Harden. They will not be able to beat either or both of those teams in a playoff series if he isn't at his best. Harden, for his part, is confident he can get there, and blamed last season's disappointment on not being 100 percent and joining a new situation.
"I don't really listen to what people are saying. I wasn't right last season and I still almost averaged a triple-double," Harden said. "If anybody else had those numbers, we'd be talking about them getting the max. People were used to seeing me averaging 40, 30 points, and so they viewed it as a down year. I was in Philadelphia for a couple of months and I had to learn on the fly. That's just what it was. I'm in a good space physically and mentally right now, and I'm just looking forward to next season."
With his contract situation finally settled, he can now turn his full attention toward his goal of bringing Philadelphia a title.