James Harden's trade to the 76ers was obviously the big story of the deadline. As the Ben Simmons saga came to a close, Joel Embiid got to welcome a new partner in town that could help him bring a title to Philadelphia.
But Harden's "failure" to opt-in to the final year of his contract might end up being an even bigger story.
Earlier this week, it was reported that some kind of paperwork mishap is what prevented him from opting in before the deadline. Now, there is a conspiracy that the whole thing is really just a plan by Harden (and presumably Daryl Morey) to set up the arrival of a third star in Philadephia.
On his podcast, Zach Lowe laid out all the details.
"So here's my second conspiracy theory," Lowe said. "This one, James Harden himself just debunked, if you care about what is said at press conferences. So James Harden, it was reported I think by The Athletic, that James Harden opted in as part of his trade to Philadelphia. Then it was reported hours later that he in fact had not opted in. Then it was reported days later that the reason he had not opted in was that he just missed the deadline to file the paperwork with the NBA league office. The fax got stuck in the machine. Or the signature couldn't be found or something.
"Here's the conspiracy. This is the one going around the league that James Harden, to be clear, just debunked. He's going to decline his option, re-sign for less money, so that Philadelphia can dump Tobias Harris into somebody's cap space and open up if they dump some other people an almost, almost, almost max slot for a third star. That's the one that's going around the league. And people who say that are like, 'If that happens, some eyebrows at the league office might be raised.' Again, James Harden says it's his intent to pick up the player option. I believe him. Maybe it was just a paperwork snafu. We've all had paperwork snafus. You send something to the wrong address, it gets sent back to you. You type in something wrong on the auto form, you have to fill it out again. It happens. Maybe it's just a conspiracy theory."
Opting out and becoming a free agent will allow Harden and the Sixers to negotiate a new contract, and perhaps one that gives Philly the financial flexibility to sign another max-level player.
The potential free agent pool in 2022 features Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, and John Wall, among others. Any one of those guys would be a massive get for the 76ers.
At this point, the idea of a third star in Philly is nothing more than a fringe theory, but when you really think about Harden's mysterious paperwork debacle and how far Daryl Morey thinks ahead, it's not inconceivable that there is some grand plan in the works.
We'll just have to wait and see for ourselves how it all plays out.