Way #3: If the Clippers do not find a way to sign Harden to a long-term deal
James Harden cannot be extended by the Clippers due to him signing a two-year deal in 2022 when he was a free agent (two-year contracts cannot be extended). This means his long-term certainty with the team is up in the air.
If things go well, the Clippers may want to bring him back, but their salary flexibility is not great so they may be unable to offer him a contract that is big enough to appease him. This is essentially a one-year experiment with Harden.
The current salaries of Harden, George, and Leonard add up to a whopping $126 million this season. The latter two both have massive player option contracts next season that they will likely opt into as well.
With the Clippers’ new arena opening up next season in 2024-2025, owner Steve Ballmer wants to have a high-level team in place, but signing a soon-to-be 35-year-old James Harden to a large deal may be a tough pill to swallow. What this means is that even in an ideal world, where the Harden fit is great with Westbrook, George, and Leonard, and the Clippers make a deep playoff run, expect the Harden-Clippers era to be a short one.