The James Harden market is turning in Sixers’ favor

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Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden, center front, reacts after scoring past Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown (7) during overtime of Game 4 in an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Sunday, May 7, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

As we rapidly approach free agency, the biggest question facing the Philadelphia 76ers continues to revolve around James Harden. The 10-time All-Star continues to mull his future, with his former Houston Rockets remaining the primary threat to land his services.

Despite several rumors that initially suggested Harden was expected to return to Houston, more and more reports have come out as of late that imply an apparent shift in the market, not only making Philadelphia the odds-on favorite to retain their star but also giving them leverage in contract negotiations.

A recent timeline of Harden rumors

Rumors of Harden returning to Houston circled throughout this past season to the point that certain NBA executives expected Harden to rejoin the Rockets back in May, according to Keith Pompey. From there, rumors of leverage playing to the future Hall of Famer being torn between the two cities to Houston-area insiders stating they don’t believe that Harden returns have all culminated into the latest series of updates.

James Harden
Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden (1) advances the ball against the Dallas Mavericks in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

With free agency just a little over a week away, the tides have turned significantly in Philadelphia’s favor. NBA insider Marc Stein first reported a potential change of heart from Harden on Saturday, saying:

“There have been some rumbles this week that, despite the undeniably strong lure that a return to Houston holds for Harden, he is said to be giving renewed consideration to staying put.”

This was soon followed by a report from Keith Pompey that seemingly confirmed Steins’ report while specifically highlighting the Sixers’ confidence in the matter.

“For the Sixers, a return to Philadelphia doesn’t seem as bleak as it did a month ago. There’s varying levels of belief that Harden could re-sign with the Sixers depending on who you talk to. Sources have said the Sixers are more optimistic that he’ll re-sign. Perhaps that’s why there’s a report that Harden is ‘giving renewed consideration to staying put.”’

In addition to these rumblings, it is clear that while the Sixers are interested in retaining Harden, they are not willing to jeopardize their financial flexibility either in the short or long term. This should be music to the ears of Philadelphia fans.

Ongoing contract negotiations

Negotiations seem to be heading in Philadelphia’s favor not only due to Harden’s reported change of heart but also due to one potential player ruling themselves out of the race.

The Phoenix Suns were once considered the darkhorse team to watch in a potential sign-and-trade; however, after acquiring Bradley Beal is an uninspiring blockbuster trade with the Washington Wizards, it seems safe to rule them out as a threat. The Los Angeles Clippers were also rumored to have been interested; however, they reportedly appear to be more interested in acquiring the recently traded Chris Paul from Washington.

James Harden
Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) defends against Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Without the presence of Phoenix and Los Angeles in the conversation, and with the ever-growing noise out of Houston of a deal being unlikely, all signs currently point toward a deal with Philadelphia. This would return leverage in the Sixers’ favor, potentially allowing for a more “team-friendly” deal than many expected heading into the offseason.

Instead of a four-year max offer, talks seem to be focused on a three, or even two-year deal, albeit one that is still lucrative, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer. if the Sixers can accomplish this in a way that enables continued future flexibility, it may be a strong continuation to the offseason for Philadelphia.