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MIAMI, FLORIDA – MAY 10: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles against the Miami Heat … [+] during the first half in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at FTX Arena on May 10, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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The Philadelphia 76ers may be on the verge of answering their biggest offseason question.

According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, Harden will likely pick up his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season and sign a short-term extension on top of that. The Sixers’ ownership group has reportedly “been resistant to the idea of giving Harden a full four-year maximum contract extension,” which could cause him to settle for a new three-year deal instead.

Until Aug. 10—the six-month anniversary of the trade that landed him in Philadelphia—Harden can only sign a two-year extension with 5 percent annual raises. After Aug. 10, he’s eligible to sign a four-year extension with a 5 percent raise over his 2022-23 salary in the first year and 8 percent annual raises over the remaining seasons.

Either way, knowing that Harden plans to pick up his player option for next season should give the Sixers some much-needed clarity heading into a critical time in the offseason.

If Harden does follow through with those plans, the Sixers will enter draft night with $143.4 million in salary committed to 12 players next season. The luxury-tax threshold is projected to be $149 million and the luxury-tax apron is projected to land just under $155.7 million, the latter of which is the line that teams cannot cross if they use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, the bi-annual exception or receive a player via a sign-and-trade.

If the Sixers keep the No. 23 overall pick (which has a cap hit of roughly $2.55 million), they’ll be at $146 million in salary, or $9.7 million under the apron. They’d be better off limiting themselves to the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception to avoid being hard-capped rather than spending the $9.7 million portion of the non-taxpayer MLE that they’d have before they hit the apron.

This could also help inform their plans with Danny Green, whose $10 million salary for the 2022-23 season is fully nonguaranteed until July 1.

Had Harden opted out and expressed a willingness to re-sign for less than his $46.5 million maximum salary for next season, the Sixers could have had access to both the full $10.3 million non-taxpayer MLE and the $4.1 million bi-annual exception. Now that they’ll likely be limited to the taxpayer MLE either way, they might be more inclined to guarantee Green’s salary and explore trades with his contract as the salary filler.

Since the Sixers will be over the luxury-tax line once they guarantee Green’s deal, they can take back no more than 125 percent of the salary they send out in any trade, plus $100,000. If they package Green with the No. 23 pick, they could take back roughly $15.8 million in salary, while packaging Green with Furkan Korkmaz ($5 million) or Matisse Thybulle ($4.4 million) would allow them to take back between $18-19 million in salary.

According to Fischer, the Sixers would only part with Thybulle if they could “find a significant upgrade to their rotation, such as a starting-level player.” Some players who could fit that mold include Kyle Kuzma ($13 million), Marcus Morris ($16.4 million) or Harrison Barnes ($18.3 million), although they could target lower-end starters such as Terrence Ross ($11.5 million), Josh Richardson ($12.2 million), Kelly Oubre Jr. ($12.6 million) or Doug McDermott ($13.8 million) with a package of Green’s contract and the No. 23 pick alone.

Regardless of how the Sixers round out the rest of their roster this summer, they now can begin charting a short- and long-term team-building path, too.

Joel Embiid is under contract through the 2026-27 season. Harden will be signed through 2024-25. Tobias Harris has two years remaining on his deal, while Tyrese Maxey still has two years left on his rookie-scale contract before he either signs an extension or becomes a restricted free agent.

Barring trades, those four will comprise the Sixers’ core for (at least) the next two seasons. From there, the Sixers will have the flexibility to pivot.

Harden coming off the books after the 2024-25 campaign could have Golden State Warriors-esque ripple effects for the Sixers, too. The NBA’s new national television contracts are set to kick in ahead of the 2025-26 season, which is expected to send the salary cap soaring.

As Forbes Sports colleague Morten Jensen reported last September, “projections indicate that a $171 million salary cap is possible” for the 2025-26 season if the NBA and the National Basketball Players’ Association don’t agree to a cap-smoothing proposal between now and then. The two sides couldn’t reach such an agreement before the current national TV deal went into effect, which sent the salary cap soaring from $70 million in 2015-16 to $94.1 million in 2016-17. That windfall is what made it possible for the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant in free agency and prolong their dynasty.

Embiid is the only player whom the Sixers currently have signed beyond the 2024-25 season. He’s projected to have a salary of $50.7 million in 2025-26. Even if the Sixers sign Maxey to a max extension once he becomes eligible next summer, they could feasibly have a mountain of cap space in the 2025-26 offseason once Harden comes off their books.

The Sixers won’t be the only team structuring their contracts over the next few seasons to maximize their flexibility in 2025-26. It would frankly be malpractice for any front office not to be planning ahead in that way. But Maxey will likely be entering his prime by then, while Embiid may still be at the tail end of it. That could make the Sixers an enticing landing spot for the top-tier players in the 2025 free-agent class.

That’s a concern for down the road, though. In the meantime, the Sixers now have the clarity they needed ahead of the draft to concoct a comprehensive offseason plan.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.