By Tommy Matthews
When James Harden declined his player-option of $47.3m next season to sign a new two-year contract (with a player-option in Year 2) worth $68.6m that will see him take a $14m discount next year, he became the first star player to take a pay cut of that magnitude in the modern history of the league.
This isn’t Dirk Nowitzki taking a team-friendly deal at 39-years-old or Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh losing out on a couple million in the prime of their careers.
Harden took a big pay cut with the aim of helping his Sixers build a championship contender around himself and co-star Joel Embiid, reportedly telling Sixers’ president of basketball operations Daryl Morey “to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over.”
That pay cut helped the Sixers sign veteran forward PJ Tucker to a three-year, $33m contract, prying him away from the rival Miami Heat, who beat the Sixers in the 2022 playoffs. Embiid specifically mentioned Tucker as someone who plays with the kind of toughness and physicality that the Sixers lacked, saying, “since I’ve been here I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those type of guys… we never had [a] PJ Tucker.”
The Sixers also signed Danuel House Jr to a two-year, $8.4m contract and Trevelin Queen, the 2021-22 G League MVP. The Sixers added depth, athleticism and shooting to a team that could have gone to the NBA finals last year had Embiid not suffered an orbital fracture and torn ligament in his thumb during the playoffs. They wouldn’t have been able to add those players – and improve their title chances – if not for Harden’s pay cut.