CHICAGO — The belief among NBA executives is that James Harden will rejoin the Houston Rockets this summer.
Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta “loves” the 76ers point guard. Sources say the franchise is anticipating a reunion with him. Before Ime Udoka was hired on April 25, head coaching candidates were asked to give their opinion on Harden’s coaching during the interview process, according to sources.
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Houston is eligible for about $60 million in salary cap space in the off-season. That’s great for Harden, who intends to withdraw from his $35.6 million deal for next season with the Sixers and become a free agent.
Sources said his interest in returning to Houston is mutual and not a ploy to get a lucrative deal from the Sixers. His mother still lives in the city. He has many business ventures there. As one source put it, “He was treated like a god in Houston.”
But the question is, what kind of contract are the Rockets, Sixers, or any other franchise willing to offer?
Harden could earn a maximum salary of $210 million over four years with the Sixers, who have the bird rights to him. He could make up to $201.7 million with another team. But at 33 years old, and prone to postseason struggles, it’s unlikely any team would do the same. Wants for a maximum of four years.
But if the Sixers don’t re-sign Harden, they’ll be put in a tough spot.
Leading the league in assists with 10.7 per game this season, he was by far the Sixers’ top coach and ball facilitator. Not expecting to have available cap space, they will not be able to adequately replace him in free agency.
So the Sixers can’t let Harden walk for nothing, especially considering what they gave up to get him from the Brooklyn Nets in the February 10, 2022 trade. Philly waived an unprotected first-round pick, which was deferred to the June draft, as well as giving up Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, and Andre Drummond.
But Houston will always be a special place for Harden. It’s also a place he frequents a few times this season when time permits.
Read more: There will be no Sixers-Nets trade winners if James Harden leaves this summer without an NBA title
Harden went from being the sixth man of the year to a 10-time All-Star after the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him to the Rockets on October 27, 2012.
For Harden, playing at Houston’s Toyota Center is unlike any other arena.
He is one of the best Rockets players ever. He won the 2018 MVP award and many other honors during his nine seasons as a Rocket. Fans in the past were upset with him for forcing a trade with the Brooklyn Nets on January 13, 2021. He is still appreciated in this city.
“The love and feelings are mutual,” he said before facing the Rockets in Houston on December 5. “That’s never going to change. Like I said, I still own my home here. There’s still a lot of family living here. That feeling won’t change. What I meant by game is obviously There is no greater winning or losing [here compared to other places]But having that family environment around me is a little bit different.”
Harden averaged 21.0 points and 6.1 rebounds this season in addition to being the first Sixer to win an NBA assists title since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68.
Celebrated for winning a two-game series against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
He had an epic performance in Game 1 with Joel Embiid sidelined with a sprained right knee ligament. Harden scored a game-high 45 points, tying the playoff high. He also made a season-high seven 3-pointers in the 119-115 victory. Fifteen of his points came in the fourth quarter, including the flared basket with 8.4 seconds remaining.
In Game 4, Harden scored a game-high 42 points, nine assists, and four steals in the 116–115 win. His 24-foot wide-opener in front of the Sixers bench with 19 seconds remaining was the game-winner to hit his best home run as a Sixer.
However, he was criticized for his struggles in Games 6 and 7.
Harden had 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting in the 95-86 loss in game six. He followed that up with nine points on 3-for-11 shooting with five turnovers in the 112-88 Game 7 loss. Harden failed to score in the fourth quarters of Games 5, 6, and 7 on combined 0-for-6 shooting.
But this hasn’t deterred the Sixer, who are hopeful but not oblivious to his mutual interest in the Rockets.
“The first scenario is to bring James back,” Sixers president Daryl Morey said. “Scenerio B, if it doesn’t come back, then we have to get creative.”