As a free agent, James Harden will have a major decision to make this summer, but at this point in time it seems as though the veteran guard is unsure what he wants when it comes to his future. Harden is “torn” between re-signing with the 76ers in Philadelphia or re-joining the Rockets and signing with Houston, according to Shams Charania. Harden’s potential interest in returning to Houston, where he played the best ball of his career from 2012-2021, has been well-documented for months now, but the Sixers also want to bring him back.
“We can’t have those discussions yet, but we are interested in bringing him back,” Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said of Harden after Philadelphia’s season came to an end last month. Harden has a player option for next season that he must turn down to become an unrestricted free agent, and he is widely expected to do so.
Harden, 33, has maintained that he wants to play for a team that gives him a chance to compete for a championship at this later stage in his career. Through that lens, the Sixers seem like the better option, as the Rockets have a very young rotation and are probably a couple years away from true contention in the Western Conference, barring a major roster overhaul.
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However, other factors could also play a part in the decision. Harden was basically permitted to run the show in Houston, and he’s reportedly he’s pining for that type of “basketball freedom” again. Money could also play a major factor, as this could be Harden’s last opportunity to cash in on a major, long-term deal. Ultimately, whichever team is willing to pay him more could put themselves in pole position.
The Sixers are in a tough spot with Harden, who is fresh off another playoff flameout. Signing him to a long-term, big-money deal could be a mistake, as he has already lost a step, and he has yet to show that he can get it done when it matters most. But he was solid for the Sixers as a primary facilitator throughout the season, and the team would have a tough time replacing his production if he were to sign elsewhere.
With the reigning MVP in Joel Embiid on the roster, you want to do everything you can to maximize the team around him, and losing Harden for nothing would be a blow, especially after the team gave up a lot to acquire him at the 2022 trade deadline.
Last summer when Harden took a pay cut in order to help the Sixers build out the roster and signed a two-year deal with a player option, we knew we were going to be here, and now here we are. It will be interesting to see exactly how Harden’s free agency shakes out as his decision will have a major impact on both the 76ers and Rockets.