The James Harden Theory ‘Going Around the League’ Could Mean Trouble for the NBA

James Harden has been an agent of chaos in the last couple of years. However, the havoc he caused in his separate exits from the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets could pale in comparison regarding what’s to come with the Philadelphia 76ers. At least, that’s what the scuttlebutt and conspiracy theorists around the NBA believe.

Harden eased some tension about his impending free agency by stating he would revisit his $47.1 million player option this summer. However, there’s a chance that The Beard and the Sixers have a grander vision in mind.

Daryl Morey is one of the more cunning executives in the NBA and not afraid to make big moves. However, he typically tries to think multiple steps ahead. On a recent edition of the Lowe Post podcast, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said that the general feeling is that the Harden trade currently acts as a precursor for what’s to come.

The theory “going around” the NBA is that James Harden will sign a new contract with the 76ers at a lower annual value

James Harden watches a game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics
James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts during the second quarter against the Boston Celtics on February 15, 2022 | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Initially, it was thought that Harden had already accepted his player option for the 2022-23 season upon completion of his trade from the Brooklyn Nets. However, The Beard and the 76ers failed to formalize that before the deadline.

Now, the rumors are running rampant.

On the Lowe Post podcast (h/t RealGM), Zach Lowe reported that paranoia exists about him possibly signing a new deal for less money. The conspiracy theory holds that The Beard takes a lesser annual value in an effort to free up future salary. Philly can then use that flexibility to land another star if they can flip Tobias Harris.

“Here’s the conspiracy. This is the one going around the league that James Harden, to be clear, just debunked. He’s going to decline his option, re-sign for less money, so that Philadelphia can dump Tobias Harris into somebody’s cap space and open up if they dump some other people an almost, almost, almost max slot for a third star. That’s the one that’s going around the league. And people who say that are like, ‘If that happens, some eyebrows at the league office might be raised.'”

Again, as Lowe noted, Harden iterated his intention to exercise the option. But nothing is guaranteed.

The Sixers could just as easily try to sign Harden, 32, to a multi-year deal at a lower annual average. That could afford Philadelphia some options, and Morey might have a particular guy in mind.

Could a Harden discount provide another pathway for the 76ers to land Damian Lillard?

If James Harden signs a new contract, is it possible that Philly could try to pair him and Joel Embiid with Damian Lillard?

Buzz linking Dame to the 76ers has existed for months now, particularly after Philly hired Lillard’s trainer. The All-NBA point guard has thrown his whole weight behind the Portland Trail Blazers’ current retool, but he could ask for a trade if the team fails to make significant moves this summer.

Perhaps that could open the door for Morey and the Sixers.

Philadelphia would undoubtedly have to trade some of their larger salaries to make space for Dame, notably Tobias Harris. But Harden signing at a lower annual value would go a long way in manifesting additional cap.

Even if Lillard and the Blazers move forward together, the Sixers could try making a run at Bradley Beal. The Washington Wizards combo guard also has a player option this summer. He could decline that, with Philly then possibly orchestrating a sign-and-trade to bring Beal to the City of Brotherly Love, with Harris going to D.C.

All this speculation is a bit meaningless at present. Harden has yet to play a single game with the 76ers, and his performance will largely define how the two parties engage in negotiations this summer.

Can the 76ers live up to the hype?

The 76ers are bank on Harden as the missing piece to their championship dreams. Still, The Beard has to show he can coexist with Joel Embiid.

Harden spoke at length about his confidence in the pairing during his introductory press conference. But the partnership could also end in disaster. The 2017-18 NBA MVP does not move well without the ball. How will that impact Embiid’s post touches, which are essential to Philly’s offense? Will the loss of Seth Curry prove too detrimental to the Sixers’ floor-spacing?

If the 76ers implode, then The Beard might feel more comfortable merely accepting the option for next season and riding things out thereafter. But if the roster bears fruit, then Philly could try to sign James Harden to a new contract and seek another superstar to contend for multiple more championships in the coming years.

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