Now that the Philadelphia 76ers have bowed out of the second round of the NBA playoffs, rumors are circulating that NBA veteran James Harden wants to return to his old team, the Houston Rockets. Although he was a big part of the reason why the Sixers pushed the Celtics to a deciding Game 7, Harden is seeking a return to the team where he spent nine seasons and was the league MVP in 2018.
When asked by Philly media how he got along with coach Doc Rivers, Harden told reporters, “Our relationship is OK,” which became a moot point when Rivers was fired on Tuesday. Other than that, Harden gave no indication whether he was willing to stay or go, telling media that he hadn’t thought about it.
This rumor has persisted since last winter when NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski first floated the idea on ESPN’s Get Up in December.
“Harden is on a winning and productive roll with All-NBA center Joel Embiid, and the state of that partnership and the Sixers’ postseason success could well be telltale factors in how Harden proceeds past this season,” Woj said then. “Experiencing a deep playoff run in a rabid, hungry Philadelphia marketplace could positively impact his thinking — just as the fallout of an early exit could too.”
Turns out Woj knows his stuff as an early exit is exactly what the Sixers experienced. With Rivers gone, its unclear whether that means Harden stays or goes. There’s also the Victor Wembanyama factor, as the Rockets have a 14% chance of landing the 7-foot-3 French phenom who is sure to change the fortunes of any of the cellar-dwelling teams that draft him.
Monty Williams, Mike Budenholzer, Sam Cassell, Mike D’Antoni, Nick Nurse and Frank Vogel are all coaching possibilities for the Sixers, and that may influence Harden, among other factors. He does maintain a residence in Houston and has strong ties to the area despite not having played there since 2021.
“It may ultimately be a leverage play for James Harden. Houston may be his way to get him the kind of guaranteed money, long-term money he wants from Philly,” Woj said on ESPN Monday before Rivers’ firing was announced. “But I wouldn’t underestimate it as just a leverage play. I think he’s very serious about returning. And Philadelphia now, they have strong relationships in that organization from Daryl Morey, starting with him in their front office. It’s going to be a really interesting couple of months.”
Per ESPN, Harden can opt out of his current deal with the Sixers and sign with another team to the tune of four years and $202 million. Or he can choose a four-year, $210 million deal and stay in Philly.
See how Twitter’s reacting to Harden potentially going back to Houston and Doc Rivers’ firing below.
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