A soon-to-be 33 year-old James Harden still hasn’t signed a contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers, but it’s not for the reason you think. Both sides are not playing hardball. Harden simply wants president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to do everything he can to improve the roster, and with whatever money is left they’ll work out a deal.
“I had conversations with Daryl, 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 told 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.”
An athlete willing to take less money will certainly make a certain segment of sports fans happy. Doubtful that the National Basketball Players Association loves that move, but Harden can do what he likes.
It’s also an easy position to take when you’ve earned approximately $500 million in salary and endorsements as Harden has over his career.
The reality is, last season was a bad one for Harden. It was the second worst season of his career in terms of efficiency. His TS% and eFG% were 59 and 48, the worst since his rookie year.
His estimated plus minus was +3.8, the fourth worst mark of his career, but still ranked him in the 95th percentile. He also managed to rank in the 96th percentile in estimated wins with 11.2.
Harden was still productive, an all-star level player. But no longer the perennial first-team All-NBA and MVP candidate he was back during his tenure with the Houston Rockets. That difference in production is at the heart of his salary decisions.
“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 told Yahoo Sports. “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.”
At just over $44 million last season, Harden’s contract wasn’t worth the level of production he gave. According to TrueHoop it cost $3.35 million to win a regular season NBA game last year. Using Harden’s 11.2 estimated wins, he should’ve been paid $37.52 million.
As he ages, his estimated wins would not be likely to increase; if anything it will plateau or likely go down.
Harden was eligible for a five-year, $269.9 million max deal with a starting salary around $46.5 million. But given his production, that would be a serious overpay as the contract went along.
It’s been rumored that the new deal with “whatever is left” will be closer to twoye ars at $68 million, with year one being about $32 million. That’s more in line with his expected production.
With that, the 76ers can go out and bolster the roster as the team did with the additions of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House, De’Anthony Melton and 2021-22 NBA G League MVP Trevelin Queen.
Harden seems to really be all in on winning with the 76ers. If the team’s best player Joel Embiid continues to play at an MVP level and Harden adapts to his new role with better efficiency, plus the young guys develop and the additions play to their potential, there could be cause to celebrate in Philly come June.