Sources: Harden will consider returning Houston

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

Sources said Harden and his inner circle have been publicly weighing in on Houston in recent months, which is a pretty cool prospect considering he requested and received a deal from the franchise less than two years ago.

His future with the 76ers remains a fluid proposition, one bolstered by seven straight wins en route to a Christmas Day meeting with the New York Knicks (ET appeared on ABC and ESPN). Harden is in a production role with All-NBA center Joel Embiid, and the state of that partnership and the Sixers’ postseason success could be telltale factors in how Harden continues past this season. The experience of a deep playoff run in a rabid hungry Philadelphia market can positively affect his thinking — just as the repercussions of an early exit can, too.

Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Sixers, including a player option for 2023-24 that allows him to rejoin free agency this summer. The Sixers are 19-12, fifth in the East and expect burgeoning superstar Therese Maxie to return next week.

Despite being forced out of the Rockets in January 2021, Harden has maintained something of a magnetic pull to Houston, drawn to the community, lifestyle and family there, sources said. After what would turn out to be relatively short stops in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, returning to rebuild the Rockets franchise would effectively mark the comfort and familiarity around the immediate pursuit of a championship.

For next summer, the Rockets are full of salary cap space and a desire to make significant improvements in the standings. Rockets officials will have to assess how they think Harden’s arrival will benefit the development of a core of young talent, including Jalen Green, Jabari Smith and Kevin Porter Jr., but his stature and talent still make him an attractive proposition.

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

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

After cycling among hand-picked co-stars including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, Harden became frustrated 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 of Harden’s history and connection to Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and CEO Tad Brown, the working relationships with Embiid and coach Doc Rivers resemble something akin to a work in progress. The Sixers gave up significant assets to acquire Harden, and he is expected to remain a priority to re-sign to a new deal for the second consecutive summer.

#Sources #Harden #returning #Houston

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