Sources: Harden reportedly considering Houston return

All-Star guard James Harden is seriously considering a return to the Houston Rockets in free agency in July – if he decides not to strike a new deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, sources have told ESPN.

Harden and his entourage have been openly valuing Houston in recent months, sources said, a remarkable possibility considering he requested and received a trade from the franchise less than two years ago.

His future with the 76ers remains a fluid proposition, which has been buoyed by seven straight wins on the way to a Christmas Day meeting with the New York Knicks (noon ET on ABC and ESPN). Harden is on a productive streak with All-NBA center Joel Embiid, and the status of that partnership and the Sixers’ playoff success may well be tell-tale factors in how Harden is faring this season. Experiencing a deep playoff run in a rabid and hungry Philadelphia market could have a positive impact on his thinking — just as the fallout from an early exit could also.

Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Sixers, including a player option for 2023-24 that allows him to return to free agency this summer. The Sixers are 19-12, fifth in the East and expect to bring back rising star Tyrese Maxey in the coming week.

Although he forced his exit from the Rockets in January 2021, Harden has maintained a sort of magnetic pull to Houston, drawn to the community, lifestyle and family there, sources said. After what would become relatively brief stops in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, a return to a rebuilding Rockets franchise would effectively represent comfort and familiarity over an immediate championship pursuit.

For next summer, the Rockets have a salary cap and an appetite to significantly improve the standings. Rockets officials will have to assess how they think Harden’s arrival would benefit the development of its young core talent, including Jalen Green, Jabari Smith and Kevin Porter Jr., but his stature and talent still make him a proposition. attractive.

During his post-Houston stops with Embiid and Kevin Durant, Harden continued to evolve as a pass-first guard. He leads the NBA with 10.9 assists per game, including a career-high 21 in a win over the LA Clippers on Friday.

Harden spent more than eight All-Star seasons with the Rockets, a streak that included a 2018 MVP award and a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Harden won three straight titles with the Rockets and ranks second behind Hakeem Olajuwon in all-time franchise scoring – and first in assists.

After browsing handpicked co-stars including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Harden became disenchanted with the Rockets — and ultimately the Nets, too. 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 of Harden’s history and ties to Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and CEO Tad Brown, his working relationship with Embiid and coach Doc Rivers resembles something closer. of a work in progress. The Sixers gave up significant assets to acquire Harden, and he should remain a priority to re-sign a new deal for a second summer in a row.

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