Through Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
In which NBAMoney doesn’t just talk, it screams and roars with deafening speed.
Money is currency in the regular sense. It boosts the bankroll, but is perhaps even more powerful in the never-ending game of flex players trying to show who’s the best, the baddest, and the worthiest in basketball.
Money is perhaps more important in Pro Hoops than in any other sport. Contract sizes have escalated so much that it won’t be long before someone is making more than $60 million a year. The deals are of course fully guaranteed and every dollar counts.
Money is everywhere in the NBA and everyone wants more of it. Except, in one of this offseason’s more unusual developments, James Harden.
Harden spoke to various reporters in a series of interviews to promote his new brand of wine and revealed that he would make $15 million less than the $47 million he would have opted for with the Philadelphia 76ers be able. He gave up that money after just 21 regular-season games as a sixer after being traded there from the Brooklyn Nets late last season.
“I had a chat with (General Manager) Daryl (Morey) and it explained how we could do better and what the market value was for certain players.” Harden told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve told Daryl to improve the squad, sign who we have to sign and give me what’s left.
“That’s how much I want to win. I’m willing to take less to enable us to achieve that.”
So far, so chivalrous.
There’s quite a bit to unpack here as we consider the staggering total Harden is leaving on the table.
First, NBA pay packages are now at a point where $32 million represents tremendous value for a player of Harden’s caliber, even amid uncertainty after the disappointing finish of the Sixers’ most recent postseason run.
Harden excelled in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat, but otherwise among his best, which he attributes to nagging injuries.
If he had accepted the full amount of his player option, it would have largely hampered Morey’s attempts to put valuable pieces around him and star center Joel Embiid. The newly created surplus made room for (Harden’s friend) PJ Tucker and fellow forward Danuel House.
Philadelphia fans have been given false hope before, but now there’s no denying that the Sixers’ lineup looks potentially impressive.
Harden wasn’t a particularly popular player during his time in the league. Even when he led the NBA by a full eight points (36.1 per game) in 2018-19, he missed out on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP award.
Often cast as a less-than-ideal teammate, he did his own reputation little favor by handling his departure from the Houston Rockets. After moving away – some would say escaped – from Brooklyn’s train wreck of a season and being reunited with a GM who loves him with the kind of devotion all lonely hearts seek, this could be his last chance to return to true elite status.
Harden drastically divides opinions, but that’s hard to fault even for his outspoken critics.
Whatever one thinks of him, one simply has to acknowledge that giving up any money in modern professional sport is a decidedly unconventional move. Every player wants their team to win. Very few want to cut their pay to increase the likelihood of this happening.
Perhaps Harden is just glaringly aware that there are no NBA championships on his résumé and the odds of getting one are diminishing. FOX betting odds Philadelphia with an eighth strongest +1400 to win next season’s title.
But whatever happens, the $15 million Harden could have had isn’t coming back. His subsequent salary will be determined by his performance; no retrospective thank you will be put in his pocket.
He is a complex player and a similar personality. He seems determined to change what people think of him…while insisting he doesn’t care what others think.
“I don’t really listen to what people are saying,” Harden added. “Last season I didn’t get it right and I still averaged close to a triple-double. If anyone else had those numbers, we’d be talking about them maxing out. I was in Philadelphia for a few months and had to learn to do it on the fly. That’s exactly what it was.”
Harden’s paradox continues, exacerbated by his current whereabouts. He works with Morey, his ultimate supporter. But he’s also in Philly, where the local media and fanbase are impatient, demanding and unforgiving.
“He has nowhere else to go,” wrote Mark Sielski in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The idea of James Harden doing the Sixers a favor here is silly, nothing more. If anything, it’s the other way around.”
That’s probably a harsh interpretation. Even below his best, Harden was one of only a handful of players to average 18-7-7 last year. If he did indeed suffer physically, there’s no obvious reason why an improved version won’t be on display when games resume in October.
Few players in history have demonstrated the ability to score at will like Harden did in his best days in Houston. There’s a reason he’s twice led the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals — and why he’s a 10-time All-Star.
He wants to make noise with Embiid’s prime here and now in a market and with a team that’s desperate for it. He made the loudest splash possible by defying the norm of hoarding all the money there is.
But this is James Harden, so even that isn’t enough to drown out the critics.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. YHere you can subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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