Rockets plan to pursue James Harden this summer if he declines player option, Sixers unconcerned, per report

Barely two full years since James Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers from the Brooklyn Nets after yet another tumultuous departure from the team, there are already rumors that he’s moving on to another franchise. However, in this case, it will be a reunion with an old friend, like Sam Amick of The Athletic and Kelly Iko reports that Harden is “serious” about a possible return to the Houston Rockets, the organization in which he spent nine seasons.

This report first surfaced in December when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that Harden was “considering“returning to Houston this summer. However, it sounded like a weak interest at the time, something that had just been born out of Harden’s well-documented love for the city of Houston. real opportunity.

According to Athletic:

“Houston is expected to pursue the 13-year veteran point guard if, as expected, he waives his player option for the 2023-24 season. And more surprisingly, sources familiar with Harden’s prospects say he’s just as serious about being back now the way he was when he left town.”

As my CBS Sports colleague Sam Quinn wrote back in December about this potential reunion: it doesn’t make any sense from the point of view of the Rockets. Houston is constantly rebounding with a stable group of young talent that includes Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengan and Kevin Porter Jr. capital they received from Harden’s original trade that sent him to Brooklyn. Adding Harden to the team will likely stall the development of these young lads and speed up the timeline by a factor of ten, with Houston now able to compete in the always packed Western Conference.

At best, Houston could use this draft capital from the Nets to add another star alongside Harden and immediately become a minor contender. But it’s a tricky road, especially with an aging Harden almost certain to get the maximum contract from Houston, a deal that could age badly.

From Harden’s point of view, his desire to return to Houston is not surprising, given his public adoration for the city. Just last month when he was discussing his time with the Nets he called “annoying”, the former MVP of the league spoke enthusiastically about Houston.

“I was in a very good place in Houston,” Harden said. “Of course, we didn’t have a chance to win the championship, but I was comfortable. So I had to get up and leave my family, everything that I created there, come to Brooklyn for a year and a half to try to just get up and go, it was not just like that.

While Houston isn’t currently set up to challenge for the championship, the Rockets are willing to give him the maximum contract he’s likely looking for, which the 66ers may not be keen to do even if they can offer more money and an extra year. . to the deal. However, despite all the rumors that Harden is considering returning to Houston, the 66ers are reportedly “not worried” about the possibility of losing him in the offseason, according to The Athletic. Philadelphia hangs its hat on the opportunity to offer Harden a maximum contract and the chance to win a championship.

It’s true that the 66ers are legitimate title contenders and Joel Embiid has had a career year and is back in MVP talk. Harden, while not performing at the level of his high-attend MVP days, is leading the league in assists and batting more effectively than he did in his MVP season. As a result of Embiid and Harden’s tandem, the Sixers are in third place in the Eastern Conference and are ready for a serious breakthrough in the playoffs.

However, as great as Philadelphia may seem in terms of winning, it doesn’t always mean a player wants to stay. Kevin Durant left the Golden State Warriors despite reaching the NBA Finals three years in a row and winning twice. Maybe Harden values ​​Houston’s lifestyle more than chasing the ring, or maybe he thinks both are possible with the Rockets after the roster revamp. Whatever the reason, Houston feels “confident” that they will arrange a meeting with their former player this summer, according to The Athletic.

It could all be smoke and mirrors to gain leverage in Philadelphia, but we’ve seen countless stars leave ideal situations for reasons unrelated to winning. If there’s a hint of seriousness in the possibility of Harden leaving Philadelphia, then the Sixers should be worried about losing a 10-time All-Star for nothing.


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