Sources told ESPN that All-Star guard James Harden is seriously considering returning to the Houston Rockets in free agency this July if he decides not to sign a new deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Harden and his inner circle have been openly considering Houston in recent weeks and months, sources said, a notable prospect given that he requested and received a trade from the franchise less than two years ago.
His future with the 76ers remains a fluid proposition, propelled by seven straight wins en route to a Christmas Day game with the New York Knicks (noon ET on ABC and ESPN). Harden is on a winning and productive streak with All-NBA center Joel Embiid, and the state of that partnership and the Sixers’ post-season success could well be telling factors in how Harden progresses this season.
Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Sixers that includes a player option for 2023–24 that allows him to re-enter free agency this summer. The Sixers are 19-12, fifth in the East, and rising star Tyrese Maxi is expected to return next week.
Despite signing himself out of the Rockets in January 2021, Harden has maintained a magnetic attraction to Houston, drawn to the community, lifestyle and family, sources said. After relatively brief stops in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, returning to a rebuilt Rockets franchise would effectively represent comfort and familiarity on the immediate championship quest.
Going into next summer, the Rockets have “appetite” for salary cap space and a significant upgrade in the rankings. Rockets executives will have to consider how they think Harden’s arrival will benefit the development of their young core of talent, including Jalen Green, Jabari Smith and Kevin Porter Jr., but his stature and talent still make him a Makes attractive offers.
Harden spent more than eight All-Star seasons with the Rockets, including the 2018 MVP award and a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Harden won three straight scoring titles with the Rockets and ranks second behind Hakeem Olajuwon in all-time franchise scoring and first in assists.
After going through select co-stars including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Harden became disillusioned with the Rockets and eventually the Nets as well. The Sixers traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and two future first-round picks to the Nets as part of a package to acquire Harden in February.
For all the history and Harden’s connections with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and CEO Tad Brown, his relationship with Embiid and coach Doc Rivers is somewhat closer to the job. The Sixers gave up significant assets to acquire Harden and are expected to remain their priority to re-sign a new contract for the second consecutive summer.