Report: Sixers’ James Harden expected to return to Houston

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Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden (1) leaves the court after being ejected for a flagrant foul during the second half of Game 3 against the Brooklyn Nets during the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

After the Philadelphia 76ers finished the season with yet another second-round exit, it was clear that change was coming. Some changes for the Sixers, like the decision to part ways with head coach Doc Rivers, are in the team’s control. Others will not be, such as what decision James Harden will make in free agency.

Earlier this week, it was reported by Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes that Harden is expected to opt-out of his $35.6 million player option. Now, just two days later, it seems Harden may already be Houston-bound according to what league sources told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

Per Pompey, there is a belief among certain NBA executives that the Houston Rockets and their former superstar will reunite this offseason. Pompey went on to say that team owner Tilman Fertitta “loves” Harden, and the franchise expects to reunite with him.

It appears the belief in a potential reunion is so strong that one of the questions asked to head coaching candidates was about their opinion on the 10-time All-Star, per Pompey’s sources.

With an immense amount of cap space (around $60 million) and a treasure chest of assets at their disposal, the Houston Rockets have the ability to not only pay Harden what he’s searching for, but continue to add quality talent around him as well. Harden his reportedly seeking a four-year deal and likely as close to a max-offer as possible.

Rumors of a Harden/Houston reconnect have surrounded the Sixers for more than the entire season. Often, it seemed those were merely a ploy to ensure a hefty payday from Philadelphia. That is not the case, according to Pompey, who stated that the interest is mutual between the two as he has many ties to Houston including being “treated like a god” in the city.

If Harden were to leave Philadelphia, the Sixers would find themselves in a precarious position as they would not be entitled to receive anything in return, assuming the Rockets were to sign him outright, which is the most likely scenario. Could Houston prefer to offer salary filler in return for Harden? Potentially, but more than likely they would save any and all salaries for salary matching in future trades.

It seems likely that yet another star will be leaving the Sixers. Where the franchise goes with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey would be the next question on the minds of many.