As reports of a possible James Harden reunion with the Houston Rockets this Christmas gathered momentum, many fans in the NBA have wondered if it might just be a matter of leverage.

For many, it’s hard to imagine Harden leaving a superior team like the Philadelphia 76ers for less money. And in most scenarios, a pending free agent’s existing team has the opportunity under the league’s collective bargaining agreement to offer the most guaranteed money. It’s just a matter of whether this team is ready and that’s where some outside pressure could help to force their hand.

But in this case, based on Harden’s age, that usual equation doesn’t quite apply. Liberty Ballers’ Bryan Toporek explains:

Because the Sixers have full Bird rights to Harden, they could typically offer him both an additional year and higher annual salary increases (8 percent) than any of his free-agent contenders this offseason. However, the “over 38 rule” in the current collective bargaining agreement will limit the leverage they have over the Rockets in free-agent negotiations.

The Over 38 rule applies to all contracts covering four or more seasons, one of which begins after the player turns 38. In this scenario, “total salaries” covering a season after the player’s 38th birthday are “attributed to previous salary-cap years pro rata based on salaries for such previous salary-cap years.”

In plain language: The Sixers can only offer Harden a contract with a maximum of four years this summer, not with a maximum of five years.

For those interested in the details, Liberty Ballers’ article dives into the financial details. Harden turns 34 this August, meaning he would turn 38 before the final season of a hypothetical five-year extension. That is why the uniqueness rule comes into play.

The Sixers could offer Harden slightly bigger annual raises than the Rockets. However, this is effectively offset by the fact that Pennsylvania has a state income tax while Texas does not.

In short, while it’s not unlikely that Harden will stay in Philadelphia, it won’t be for the money. Assuming the Rockets are willing to offer a maximum contract in terms of money and years, financially they will be roughly in line with what the Sixers can propose.

Continue to play.


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