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February 11, 2022

Details on James Harden's expected arrival (and Sixers debut), contract details, more

Sources say the new Sixers guard didn't in fact opt in for 2022 following his trade to Philly, but not because he didn't want to...

The Sixers were finally able to grab James Harden in a trade on Thursday, but it appears they will have to wait a bit longer until he suits up for the team, based on information provided by the team on Friday morning.

A team official confirmed to PhillyVoice on Friday morning that Harden was not expected to be available to play for the Sixers this weekend, with Philadelphia preparing for a Friday/Saturday back-to-back against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers. Harden is expected to arrive in the area at some point this weekend, and at that point will undergo evaluation from the Sixers' health and performance staff.

As for when Harden will make his debut, that's still up in the air for right now. Following this weekend's back-to-back, the Sixers have only two more games before they hit the All-Star break: a home game against the Celtics next Tuesday, and a road meeting with the Bucks on Thursday, February 17th. The possibility exists that Harden, who has recently missed time for what the Nets called "left hamstring tightness," might not make his Philadelphia debut until after the All-Star break, but that's too early for anyone with the Sixers to determine at this moment. Once he's in the building and can get looked at/communicate with Philadelphia's staff, we'll all have a more concrete timeline.

MORE: NBA trade deadline grades roundup: Were Sixers winners or losers of James Harden trade? | The Sixers finally got Harden. Now what? Answering big questions about the move

From a longer-term perspective, there's a more important piece of business to sort out from Thursday. In the aftermath of the Harden deal breaking to the public, it was suggested by other outlets that Harden was opting into the next year of his contract. That was misreported, and Harden did not opt-in prior to yesterday's deal being completed and going official, a source familiar with the situation told PhillyVoice. Harden would have had to opt-in prior to the deal's completion on Thursday, and since he didn't, his next opportunity to opt-in comes at the end of this season. 

For anyone feeling panicky, there is no indication that this says anything about Harden's commitment to Philadelphia. By all accounts, Harden wants to be here in Philadelphia with Joel Embiid as his co-star and Daryl Morey running the show, with his desire to be here over Brooklyn not exactly a secret. Both sides are operating under the belief that this is a long-term partnership. And the most lucrative financial path for Harden still revolves around that option — as friend of the website Derek Bodner detailed earlier this week, Harden opting in and signing an extension down the road (traded players must wait at least six months after being traded to sign an extension) is the path to the most money possible, roughly $274 million through 2026-27. 

In short, this might end up being a semantic difference when all is said and done, but it's a difference that must be noted until/unless it changes.

Whenever Harden gets here and gets set up in Philadelphia, the most important thing for the time being is accelerating his growth and chemistry with this group, something they don't have a lot of time to do before the playoffs start in mid-April. It has been a bit of a whirlwind so far, and not all of his teammates have even gotten a chance to speak with him yet, and the Sixers are aware that they are likely going to change their day-to-day process in order to absorb a piece as big and critical as Harden in the coming months.

"We're just going to go out there and try to figure it all out. Coach [Rivers] literally just said practices and shootarounds now are going to be more intense, just because we have a limited amount of time to figure it out," Tyrese Maxey said at shootaround on Friday. "I can't wait, it's going to be great, it's a great group of guys and [I] can't wait to get started."

With the arrival of a new star, a new level of scrutiny is here for the Sixers. Soon enough, everyone will be able to focus on the one overarching question that truly matters in the NBA — how close are the Sixers to winning a championship?

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