James Harden considering free agent return to Rockets

Sources tell ESPN that All-Star guard James Harden is seriously considering a return to the Houston Rockets in free agency this July — if he decides against a new deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Harden and his inner circle have been openly weighing Houston in recent months, a notable prospect given that he requested and received a trade from the franchise less than two years ago, sources said.

His future with the 76ers remains a fluid proposition, coming off a run of seven straight wins heading into a Christmas Day meeting with the New York Knicks (noon ET on ABC and ESPN). Harden is on a productive roll 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 fares this season. Experiencing a deep playoff run in a crazed, hungry Philadelphia market could have a positive effect on his thinking – just as an early exit could.

Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Sixers that includes a player option for 2023–24, allowing 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 in the coming week.

Sources said that despite signing his way out of the Rockets in January 2021, Harden has maintained a magnetic attraction to Houston, drawn to the community, lifestyle and family there. After relatively brief stops in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, a move for a rebuilding Rockets franchise would effectively represent comfort and familiarity on an immediate championship quest.

For next summer, the Rockets have salary cap space and the appetite to make significant improvements in the standings. Rockets executives will have to evaluate how they believe Harden’s arrival will 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 an attractive proposition. Is.

In his post-Houston stint with Embiid and Kevin Durant, Harden has continued to develop as a pass-first guard. He’s leading the NBA with 10.9 assists per game — including a career-high 21 in Friday’s win over the LA Clippers.

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

After cycling through select co-stars including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Harden became disillusioned with the Rockets — and eventually the Nets. 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 Harden’s entire history and relationship with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and CEO Tad Brown, his working relationships with Embiid and coach Doc Rivers are closer 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 a new deal for the second consecutive summer.

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