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Report: Rockets ‘out of the running’ for James Harden; Clippers named as ‘dark horse’ suitor

The Houston Rockets may be out of contention for the Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden, but the L.A. Clippers might be a “dark horse” to watch.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

A homecoming for Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden to the Houston Rockets is looking more and more unlikely as days go on.

The Athletic’s Kelly Iko broke down the latest on the situation on a Twitter livestream on Wednesday afternoon. Iko talked the early list of possible destinations, such as the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns, why those destinations aren’t panning out, and what the Sixers might be planning on giving Harden to return to the City of Brotherly Love.

As far as Phoenix goes, there is a “home” element to that city for Harden, who owns a house there and went to Arizona State. However, the Suns trading for Bradley Beal took them out of the equation. Not much there to see.

The Rockets, however, have been one of the most prominent possible landing spots for Harden ever since the rumors began back in midseason that he was looking to decline his player option with the Sixers for a possible homecoming in Houston. Iko claims that the situation there has changed.

“In recent days, I’ve understood that Houston is no longer an option for James. I would call them out of the running . . . James was never interested in taking some kind of discount two years in a row. He made, what, 34-35 million this year. He could stand to make 50 to 52. He was not going to take a discount and the Rockets were never going to pay him that kind of max money.”

If all that is true, a couple of things are important. First of all, if Houston is truly out of the running, that may seriously dilute any leverage Harden and his camp may have had in obtaining a bigger, longer contract out of somebody. Secondly, if his desire is to make “$50-52 million” per year, do the recent rumors pointing to Harden staying in Philly mean they are willing to pay him that much for an extended duration of time? Even considering the lost leverage from the Houston situation?

Iko has heard such.

“As far as what the Sixers can offer him, I’ve heard different things. One number I’ve heard is 3 [years], $150 [million].”

After such an erratic playoff performance, it’s fair to say many Sixers fans may not feel particularly thrilled with throwing $50 million per year for three years at the 33-year-old guard. It’s also worth noting that if the Sixers give Harden more than a 20 percent raise over what he earned last year (more than $39.6 million), he can’t be traded until Jan. 15, 2024. Otherwise, he’ll be trade-eligible on Dec. 15, 2023.

If Harden is still looking to leave Philadelphia, however, Iko threw out another possible landing place for the star guard.

“Another team that I’ve heard recently is a dark horse and kind of watching the situation is the Los Angeles Clippers.”

The Clippers are a team that haven’t really featured in the conversation surrounding Harden, at least not publicly. For that sort of move to realistically happen, Harden would have to opt-in to his $35.6 million player option with the Sixers, and then be traded. Even then, Harden would have to want to go to Los Angeles, as he has the power to veto any trade.

The gears will really twist into motion tomorrow, June 29, when Harden will have to make a decision on whether to accept or decline his player option with the Sixers.

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