19 May, 2023
James Harden’s alleged interest in joining the Houston Rockets again this summer has been one of the often reported tales in the NBA this year. Although the former league MVP’s pursuit by the Rockets does not guarantee that he will sign with them, the fact that Harden is associated with Houston gives these claims some credence.
Houston “expects” to reconnect with Harden this summer, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the enthusiasm shown by both parties is “mutual” and not a ploy to secure a better deal from the Sixers. In order to become an unrestricted free agency and accept a contract worth more money, Harden is anticipated to refuse his $35.6 million player option this summer.
This is the clearest indicator yet that Harden is at least seriously considering a reunion with the franchise he spent nine years with, even though nothing is official until a piece of paper is signed.
Given Harden’s ardent love for Houston, which has persisted even after he was forced to be traded from the team in 2021, this revelation is not shocking. But that doesn’t imply that Harden’s departure from Philadelphia is a given. Harden reportedly pushed for the Sixers to get a different coach, which led to Doc Rivers’ resignation as head coach. If that’s the case, Harden may have a significant say in picking Philadelphia’s next head coach. However, the Sixers would suffer significantly if Harden did leave for Houston.
A team that has constantly been a title contender over the past few years would take a big step back if they lost Harden for nothing. Joel Embiid, who was recently elected league MVP, would be left without a teammate, forcing the Sixers to, in the words of team president Daryl Morey, “get creative” in their search for another All-Star caliber player before the start of the following season.
With Harden potentially commanding as much as $201.7 million from teams across the league and a maximum of $210 million from the Sixers, the Rockets will have about $60 million in salary room this summer to sign him. Although Harden’s fit on the struggling Rockets squad is debatable, his connection to Houston appears to be strong enough to overcome roster issues.
Harden still has a house in Houston even though he has moved around from Brooklyn and Philadelphia ever since asking the Rockets for a trade. He has multiple enterprises in the city and has praised the area and club on numerous occasions this season. Harden mentioned how difficult it was for him to leave Houston when talking about the “frustrating” time he spent in Brooklyn earlier this year.
“I was in a really good place in Houston,” Harden said. “Obviously, we didn’t have a chance to win a championship, but I was comfortable. So for me to up and leave my family, all the things I created there, to come to Brooklyn for a year and a half to try to just get up and leave, it was for a reason.”
It appears that Harden values his lifestyle in Houston more than winning championships, or perhaps he believes both are attainable with the Rockets following some personnel changes. Ime Udoka, who replaced the departing head coach in Houston, was also asked for his or her thoughts on managing Harden, according to Pompey. It’s obvious that Houston intends to make every attempt to get Harden back to Texas, but we’ll have to wait and see if he shares their sentiments when the time comes for him to make a choice.