Shelburne: Harden’s decision “seems to be linked” to Doc Rivers

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, right, talks to James Harden during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

As Sixers fans await the fallout from yet another second-round exit, a potential peak into the future has sprung forward from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

Questions immediately surrounded the Philadelphia 76ers following their embarrassing performance against the Boston Celtics in Game 7. Questions surrounding the direction of the franchise, what would happen to Doc Rivers, James Harden, and even a small fraction of fans calling for the team to trade Joel Embiid.

While much of this was raw emotion pouring out, some of the questions, specifically about the future of James Harden, are legitimate and rapidly approaching. This offseason, which started roughly during the third quarter of Game 7, Harden will decide whether or not to opt into a $35.6 million player option for the upcoming season. Widely expected to decline, it seems Harden is set to test free agency and may have more suitors than just Philadelphia.

The clear favorite — outside of the Sixers — are the Houston Rockets. The two have been connected in rumors about a possible reunion for months on end, and though the timeline fit is questionable at absolute best, it seems the chances are far greater than zero that Harden returns to Houston. A second suitor, the Phoenix Suns, have been connected as well. However, while anything is possible after the front office overhaul the team saw, it seems highly unlikely.

But what comes into play for Harden’s decision to stay or go with this franchise? Desire to compete? Possibly. Familiarity? Likely. Compensation? Almost entirely. However, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, there is another factor that may play a large role in Harden’s decision; the future of current Sixers head coach, Doc Rivers.

Could a decision on Doc also decide Harden’s future?

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers calls to his players during the first half of Game 1 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Monday, May 1, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Earlier today on ESPN, Shelburne spoke on not only the Sixers’ upcoming decision on whether or not they will pay Harden superstar money but what else the team may be required to do to retain the future Hall of Famer:

“Well, they have to start with the decision: Do you want to move forward with James Harden and Joel Embiid as your pairing? Is this your superstar pairing moving forward? Because James Harden can become a free agent, which means that you have to decide if you want to give him a four-year contract. Do you want to lock this in for the next four years? And that decision, from what I understand talking to people… also now becomes tied to the decision about Doc Rivers because James Harden was not all that supportive of Doc Rivers in his press conference yesterday.

I think behind the scenes from what I’m told, that one person said ‘it would be hard for me to see James wanting to come back and play for Doc again.’ This is going to be a situation where those two decisions are linked. As we go forward into this into this offseason and you have another second round exit, you have to decide if you want to lock in your future around those two guys, and then if you’re doing that, what does that mean for Doc Rivers because the decision seems to be linked.”

Ramona Shelburne

While any outcome is possible, that being the Sixers retaining Harden, Rivers, both, or neither, it seems reasonable to suggest, based on what he said — and, more importantly, didn’t say — that Harden wouldn’t be heartbroken over a coaching change. Either way, it is an interesting start to the Sixers’ offseason.