By Tom Ignudo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When the Sixers landed James Harden in a trade package for Ben Simmons, he told reporters he wanted to be in Philadelphia. Once the season ended, he echoed that same statement.

On Thursday, it appears Harden staying in Philadelphia has come to fruition. With NBA free agency approaching, “all signs” point toward Harden returning to the Sixers on a shorter-term contract extension, according to Bleacher Report.

“Harden and Sixers leadership are aligned on one clear directive, sources said: The franchise’s best opportunity to compete for a championship starring Joel Embiid, as well as Harden’s optimal opportunity to earn his first NBA ring, resides with Harden playing in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.”

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According to the report, Sixers’ ownership has been reluctant to give Harden a full 4-year man contract extension beyond his 2022-23 option, or the 5-year-deal he would be eligible for if he chose to decline his 47.4 player option for next season.

Harden is expected to pick up his player option for the 2022-23 season, according to Bleacher Report. But the Sixers’ “further financial commitment to him remains to be seen once the legal negotiating period begins.”

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If Harden does in fact sign a short-term extension, it would provide him with “greater optionality” for the remainder of his career, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report wrote.

According to Bleacher Report, Harden could earn more money in his contract extension if he were to wait until Aug. 10, which is six months after he was traded to Philadelphia.

Until that six-month benchmark, Philadelphia would only be allowed to offer Harden 105 percent of his 2022-23 salary in the first year of a two-year extension, followed by a 5 percent raise for the second year, for a rough total of $149.3 million through 2024-25. If Harden waits until Aug. 10 to sign his extension, he could receive an 8 percent raise on the second year of the extension, which would net him a total of $150.8 million, according to cap calculations provided to B/R. If Harden opts out, the maximum he can earn on a new three-year deal would be $150.7 million.

In 21 games regular-season games with the Sixers, Harden averaged 21 points, 10.5 assists, and 7.1 rebounds per game before they were knocked out by the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

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“There has also been plenty of talk among league personnel of Harden potentially taking less than his maximum salary to amplify Philadelphia’s efforts to build a championship-contending rotation around Harden and Embiid,” according to Bleacher Report.