The pendulum of uncertainty surrounding the future of 10-time NBA All-Star James Harden continues to swing as it undoubtedly will until the end of the week when Harden will have to make a decision on his player option with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Since the middle of the past season, the rumors have circulated that Harden was eyeing a return to the Houston Rockets, where he played from 2012-2021. Since then, there has been an endless flood of reports ranging from Harden being as good as gone from Philadelphia, to him being “torn” about the situation, to him leaning towards remaining in the City of Brotherly Love. In recent days, the narrative has leaned a bit more heavily towards the latter.
Just in time for another conflicting report! Isn’t this fun?
The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported Monday morning that “a source close to [Harden] reconfirmed that the Rockets remain a serious possibility,” even after the Rockets drafted guard Amen Thompson with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft this past week.
Amick highlighted the differences in the current statuses of the franchises, with the Sixers an Eastern Conference contender featuring the reigning MVP Joel Embiid, and the Rockets in a state of rebuild.
“At face value, it makes very little sense for the 10-time All-Star and former MVP to head back to Houston rather than re-sign in Philadelphia. He forced his way out of a Rockets uniform in 2020, in large part, because their title-contention window had been slammed shut. And even if he returns, and if another high-level player or two joins him by way of the Rockets’ $60 million in cap space, you won’t find any objective viewers predicting a reopening of said window anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the Sixers offer the complementary services of a reigning MVP in Joel Embiid, a longtime ally and friend in president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, and a new coach in Nick Nurse who has a championship resume and Rockets roots to boot (he was the franchise’s G League coach from 2011-13). And while their inability to break through to that next level on the playoff stage has surely sparked frustration, it’s indisputable that the Sixers would remain among the Eastern Conference elite if he remains.”
Amick is quick to point out, however, that all of these back-and-forth reports have seemed like nothing more than a leverage game.
“Each team, it has seemed at times, views the other as nothing more than a pawn whose main role is to help Harden get the biggest and best deal possible. Only Harden and his inner circle truly know which way he is leaning.”
No doubt Harden and his inner circle have been loving, if not fueling the speculation surrounding the star guard as it continues to develop this offseason.
Nevertheless, things will become a lot more clear by this Thursday, June 29, when Harden will likely decline his $35.6 million player option with the Sixers for next season and become a free agent on July 1.
But I’d expect a few more twists and turns in the narrative by then, if the past few weeks are any indication.