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The Philadelphia 76ers reportedly have confidence they will be able to re-sign superstar guard James Harden despite his rumored interest in returning to the Houston Rockets.
According to Sam Amick and Kelly Iko of The Athletic, the Sixers are “unconcerned” about Harden leaving in free agency due to their belief that no other team can offer him the combination of championship contention and maximum earning potential.
In December, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Harden was “seriously considering” a return to Houston if he didn’t sign a new deal with Philly during the offseason.
Wojnarowski added that Harden and his camp had been “openly weighing” the possibility of returning to Houston over the course of multiple months.
Harden began his NBA career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he enjoyed his greatest success after getting traded to the Rockets in 2012. Harden spent eight-plus seasons in Houston and was named an All-Star each of those years.
He also won three consecutive scoring titles with the Rockets, was the 2017-18 NBA MVP and averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds during his time with the organization.
Harden requested a trade out of Houston in late 2020 and the Rockets eventually traded him to the Brooklyn Nets, but his tenure in Brooklyn was short-lived. After only 13 months, the Nets traded Harden to Philadelphia last season.
Although he hit free agency last offseason, Harden decided to stay in Philly, signing a two-year, $68.6 million contract with a player option for 2023-24.
Harden has been highly productive for the 76ers this season, averaging 21.6 points, an NBA-leading 10.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 2.9 three-pointers made and 1.3 steals per game.
With Harden, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris leading the way, the Sixers are third in the Eastern Conference at 39-21 and are considered strong contenders to vie for an NBA Finals appearance and title.
A 76ers source confirmed that winning is a top priority for Harden, telling Amick and Iko: “He wants to play basketball and wants to win. If you can’t handle that, you’re in the wrong business.”
Meanwhile, a source close to Harden suggested his desire to win won’t necessarily preclude him from going back to Houston, saying: “Everything in this league is leverage. But that doesn’t mean he won’t go to Houston.”
The Rockets are the worst team in the NBA this season at 13-48, but they have some exciting young pieces in place and could be on the verge of adding more.
Recent high draft picks Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. are starting to come into their own, and the Rockets could wind up with a 14 percent chance to land presumed 2023 No. 1 overall draft pick Victor Wembanyama. The 7’4″ Frenchman is arguably the most-hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James, and he could completely alter the state of the Rockets franchise.
A core of Harden, Wembanyama, Green and Smith would be a scary proposition for the rest of the NBA, and it may not be too far outside the realm of possibility.