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James Harden: Philadelphia 76ers pay cut deal agreed as guard looking to have ‘unbelievable’ year after letting Sixers build contender

James Harden has vowed to get back to his high-scoring best for the Philadelphia 76ers after instructing president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to build a contender around him and Joel Embiid.

The former league MVP said he would be happy to take a pay cut to allow the team to build a title-contending roster and he’s been true to his word, agreeing a cut-price deal which has helped allow Morey time to put the pieces together to allow the Sixers to go full-tilt at winning a championship.

Harden has now fully agreed to a two-year, $68.6m deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, ESPN reported on Wednesday. It means he will earn $33m this year, rather than the $47.4m he would have earned if he had activated his player option. The new contract also has a $35.6m player option build in for next season but the shooting guard’s only focus is the 2022-23 campaign.

“I’m looking to have an unbelievable season,” he said. “I don’t want to just go out there and be running around and not being efficient and looking old out there. I still want to be really, really, really good.”

Harden is looking to bounce back after the most disappointing season of his career.

He averaged 22 points this past season for Brooklyn and Philadelphia, the lowest since he became a starter in the 2012-13 season. He turns 33 in August.

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James Harden celebrates a basket against the New York Knicks on his Philadelphia 76ers home debut

“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 said. “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.”

The 10-time All-Star confirmed a few weeks back he made the decision to turn the money down to allow the 76ers the flexibility they needed to go after other players. If he had not declined the option, the team would have been hard-pressed to bolster its roster led by NBA scoring champion Embiid.

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Check out James Harden’s 2021-22 NBA All-Star mixtape

“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.

“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. I wanted to show the organisation, 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.”

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James Harden says his first home game for the Philadelphia 76ers was like a movie

The Sixers signed free agents PJ Tucker and Danuel House. Harden previously played with both in Houston.

Tucker, who was a vital defensive cog in the Milwaukee Bucks’ title run in 2021, joined from Miami for three years on a $33m deal. Shooter Danuel House has been tied down for two years at $8.5m while the team also picked up guard De’Anthony Melton from the Memphis Grizzlies via trade and signed Trevelin Queen, the 2021-22 G League MVP.

“We got some really good pieces this summer, so now it’s time for us to go do the hard work,” Harden said.

“I think we have a much deeper team. That’s something we wanted to address. If you look at our team now, we’re positioned to go a lot further. I like how we stack up with the rest of the top teams.”

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Philadelphia’s James Harden provides a brilliant pass as Joel Embiid completes the dunk against the Charlotte Hornets last season

Harden is glad to put a hamstring injury that dogged him last season behind him and he feels that it might have affected his ability to influence games. He relied more on three-pointers and free throws than driving to the basket. His usual speed was replaced by sluggishness and his mind was preoccupied with the injury.

“I wasn’t able to get in my spots and get to where I needed to get to without thinking about it, so that right there slowed my confidence down,” he said. “It was craziness, but I’m finally back. I’ll be a lot more aggressive scoring-wise just because my body allows me to.”

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 defeat. They have not 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.

Joel Embiid, left, and James Harden, right, in action for the Philadelphia 76ers against the New York Knicks in February 2022
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Joel Embiid, left, and James Harden, right, in action for the Philadelphia 76ers against the New York Knicks in February

Harden also knows how important the one-two punch of him and Embiid is going to be next season and is committed to making the most of working with one of the league’s top players in his prime.

“I talk with Joel frequently and we have meetings about how we’re going to play and what we need to do to help our team win a championship,” Harden said. “When you have two of the top players at their positions on the same team, that’s a great building block. We’re going to grow together and try to lead this team to the top. I believe we can do it together.”

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