By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — James Harden decided to grow his beard and shear his annual salary in Philadelphia.
Harden signed a deal worth slightly over $68 million, paying him about $33 million this season with a $35 million player option for the 2023-24 season. Harden, though, will make about $14.5 million less this coming season than he could have earned under his previous deal. Harden had a $47.4 million option for this coming season that he declined last month, saying he wanted to give the 76ers flexibility to improve their roster and compete for a championship.
“This is where I want to be. This is where I want to win, and I think we have the pieces to accomplish that goal,” Harden said Wednesday. “From my first day with the 76ers organization, the team and the fans have helped me feel at home here in Philadelphia. I’m excited to build off of last season and I can’t wait to get out on the court with the guys and start this journey.”
Daryl Morey, team president of basketball operations, posted a photo on Instagram of him posing alongside Harden as the 10-time All-Star guard known as “The Beard” signed his contract.
“Now this looks like a job for we, ” Morey wrote.
Harden’s plans have been clear since Philadelphia’s season ended: He was committed to staying with the 76ers and committed to help them get better.
“Taking less money this year to sign as many players as we needed to help us contend and be the last team standing was very, very important to me,” Harden said in an interview this month with The Associated Press. “I wanted to show the organization, the Sixers fans and everybody else who supports what we’re trying to accomplish, what I’m trying to accomplish individually, that this is what I’m about.”
Harden vowed to return to for after battling a lingering hamstring injury that cut his production with the Brooklyn Nets, and later the Sixers, after he was acquired in a trade-deadline deal.
“Over the last two years we have taken major steps toward our ultimate goal of becoming champions,” said coach Doc Rivers. “James shares our drive to win a title, and he believes being a 76er gives him the best opportunity to do that. Together, we will work tirelessly to achieve our goal.”
A member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, Harden averaged 22 points this season for Brooklyn and Philadelphia, his lowest since he became a starter in the 2012-13 season. He turns 33 in August.
Harden, a three-time scoring champion, told the AP he was nonplussed about taking “less” money to return and chase a championship in Philly.
“For any other players, that’s a max contract,” he said of his lower numbers, “but it’s like, for me, I was not the same James Harden.
The 76ers lost to top-seeded Miami in the second round of the playoffs. Harden had four turnovers, four baskets and did not score in the second half in the decisive Game 6 loss. They haven’t advanced past the second round since 2001. Their last NBA championship came in 1983.
“Coming back and being the aggressor, the scorer first and then the playmaker, is something that I need for myself,” he said.
Harden has appeared in 942 games (728 starts) with Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Houston and Oklahoma City and holds averages of 24.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.5 steals.
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