Has The Sixers’ James Harden Era Come To An End?

NBA ARTICLES » Has The Sixers’ James Harden Era Come To An End?
Is The Sixers' James Harden Era Come To An End?

NBA Finals MVP Joel Embiid, James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.

The 76ers spent most of the regular season as one of the favorites to win the championship, but despite adding All-Star James Harden to their roster, they are playing at home during the Eastern Conference finals. This is, although the 76ers were one of the favorites to win the championship.

What kind of decisions will need to be made during the offseason for a team like that, which will have eight players, including Harden, become free agents this summer?

Harden, Tobias Harris, and even Tyrese Maxey all have significant roles to play in the future of the Philadelphia 76ers, and the 76ers will have to decide their respective destinies.

The current standings of the team

The first year of Joel Embiid’s supermax extension will begin at the same time as roster decisions will need to be made this offseason. The freshly elected Most Valuable Player has a contract through the next four seasons, yet, his 76ers have not gone past the second round of the playoffs despite having the third-best record in the NBA (behind Phoenix and Milwaukee) since the 2020-21 season. After an unsuccessful run in the playoffs, the 76ers parted ways with head coach Doc Rivers on Tuesday and are now looking for a replacement. When it comes to constructing the roster for not only the upcoming season but also the years to come, finding a suitable replacement for Rivers is secondary to the importance that now places on the free agency of Harden.

This coming July, Harden will be one of eight 76ers eligible to become free agents. The Philadelphia 76ers do not have any draft picks for June, and they are not eligible to make a trade for a first-round choice until at least 2029. As a result, the team needs more alternatives for how it might strengthen its squad. Forward Tobias Harris is about to enter the final year of his current deal. Harris might be a financial casualty in the 2024-25 season despite having averaged 14.7 points per game during the regular season and shooting 52.9% from the field in the postseason. Despite these statistics, Harris’s contract could be terminated. Harris is eligible for an extension, but if he signs a new deal, the 76ers may have almost $150 million in salary committed to four players between Embiid’s $50 million cap hit, Harden’s new contract, and Tyrese Maxey’s new deal.

Finances during the offseason

Harden’s player option is worth $35.6 million, which will determine the financial situation in Philadelphia. The 76ers would be $9 million over the tax and getting close to the $179.5 million second apron if Harden decided to forego his option by June 29 and accept a maximum contract starting at $46.9 million. However, they would not be able to use the $5 million taxpayer midlevel exception, and the amount of money they could take back in a trade would be subject to limits.

The Philadelphia 76ers would still be over the salary limit. Still, they would be allowed to use the $12.2 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception if James Harden were to depart the organization and sign with another club with cap room. If Harden decides to sign with another team, the 76ers will only be able to stay under the salary ceiling if they trade Harris along with his $39.7 million contract and do not accept any cash in exchange. Both Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell have until June 21 to exercise their options to remain on their respective contracts for the following season. On July 3, the $8 million fully guaranteed portion of De’Anthony Melton’s deal will become effective.

The top priority in the front office

The acquisition of James Harden is a top objective, but at what price? The guard is coming off a regular season in which he led the league in assists (he also posted a career-best assist-turnover ratio), shot the second-highest 3-point percentage of his career, and averaged at least 20 points for the 11th consecutive season. He also led the league in 3-point % shooting during the regular season. Since Philadelphia acquired Harden in February 2022, the 76ers have posted a regular season record of 52-26 with him in the starting lineup.

Harden is only the second player in the last 25 years to have two games with at least 40 points and go-ahead field goals in the final 30 seconds of a single postseason series. Harden did this with the Houston Rockets against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite all of this, Harden will turn 34 in August, ranks seventh among current players in total minutes played, and struggled at times during the playoffs. Harden also ranks seventh in total minutes played among retired players. Harden shot 23.33% in the paint during the first-round series versus Brooklyn, as he shot 7-for-30. Since play-by-play statistics were initially recorded in 1996–1997 (with a minimum of 25 painted field goals), this is the worst paint field-goal percentage in a single series by any player. During the second round, James Harden had a shooting percentage of just 9 for 44 from the field in the 76ers’ games 2, 3, and 6. Because of the Over-38 rule, Philadelphia is on an even playing field with teams under the cap when negotiating his next contract.

The 76ers can present a contract worth $210 million for four years. A club with available cap space, such as the Houston Rockets, can make an offer of four years and $202 million to the opposing team. A pair of inquiries need to be made at the front desk. The first question is whether or not there is too much financial risk to offer a contract that is that lucrative (especially considering the new CBA rules and Harden’s age), and if there is, the second question is whether or not the two parties can agree. Keep in mind that Harden gave up $14 million during the previous offseason to assist Philadelphia in signing P.J. Tucker and Darius House. The second question is as follows: Who are the 76ers competing against for the walkway number, and is there one? The projected cap space for Houston, where Harden played for more than eight seasons, is estimated to be sixty million dollars.

Candidates for the extension to keep an eye on

Rookies don’t often receive contract extensions from Daryl Morey too often. Morey has only ever extended the rookie contract of one player who was initially selected in the first round throughout his time in Houston and now in Philadelphia. That player was James Harden, whom the Rockets acquired in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012. Maxey has the potential to take second place. This season, Maxey started 41 games and averaged 22.3 points per game while shooting 49.2% from the field and 45.5% from 3-point range. The 76ers had a 153-point advantage over their competition when Maxey and Harden were on the court simultaneously. According to the tracking done by Second Spectrum, Maxey was one of the top ten players in terms of effective goal % in transition this season.

Maxey is probably not a max player (although you can argue that neither is Darius Garland, who did earn a max rookie extension). Still, he might see a beginning salary of $31 million. This is although Darius Garland received a max rookie agreement. The first-year compensation will equal 21% of the cap, which is on par with the deals that Jordan Poole and Tyler Herro signed in October of last year.

What the team needs is depth on the bench. Half of the 76ers’ roster, including Georges Niang and Paul Reed, will likely become available for free agency.

Future draft assets are owed to Oklahoma City by Philadelphia in the form of a top-six protected first-round pick in the year 2025. If the first is not sent to the Thunder in 2025, they will receive either a top-4 covered first in 2026 or 2027. In the year 2027 or 2028, Philadelphia will send Brooklyn a top-eight protected first in exchange for the first that will be given to the Thunder in the following year. As a result, the Philadelphia 76ers have three picks in the second round that are available for trade.