James Harden did the Philadelphia 76ers a solid and it could very well have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Eastern Conference, including the rival Boston Celtics.
Harden signed a two-year contract worth $68.6 million, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, after opting out of his player option for the 2022-23 season. Harden could have made a cool $47.4 million this season under said player option, but instead chose to provide Philadelphia some financial flexibility. Harden’s new deal results in him earning $14 million less, money the 76ers now are able to spend elsewhere.
The 10-time NBA All-Star’s willingness to do so has since allowed Philadelphia to sign free agent P.J. Tucker and Danuel House while also facilitating a trade for De’Anthony Melton. At first glance, it has resulted in a better roster around Harden and Joel Embiid with Tucker and House likely going to a higher bidder should Harden have not sacrificed.
Simply, that’s not ideal for the Celtics.
Boston put itself in the top-tier of the conference following an appearance in the NBA Finals last month. And the Celtics also have improved this offseason by trading for Malcolm Brogdon and signing free-agent Danilo Gallinari. The Green might just have the deepest group in the league.
This isn’t to say the Celtics now have been overshadowed or passed over by the Sixers, who were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals, but Philadelphia seems to have again joined contending status in a conference full of contenders. The 76ers have the fourth-best betting odds to win the Eastern Conference (6-to-1) at DraftKings Sportsbook. Philadelphia ranks behind the favored Celtics (+230), Milwaukee Bucks (3-to-1) and Heat (+550) and that’s not even the mention of the Brooklyn Nets (7-to-1), who still have both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Philadelphia’s situation, like that in Brooklyn, is a bit of a surprise, but for other reasons. After all, the 76ers previously looked strapped for cash when it was believed Harden would be opting into his player option.
Of course, as always with the Sixers, there remain plenty of questions. One of the biggest revolves around Harden himself, and should this team-friendly decision translate into the seven-time All-NBA honoree being more motivated entering his age-33 season. A question pertaining to Philadelphia’s on-paper roster, and whether or not it will translate into on-court camaraderie — something the organization has struggled with of late — also is fair to consider.
Nevertheless, though, Philadelphia’s improvements might have taken some wind out of Boston’s summertime sail.