Sixers rumors: Could James Harden really bolt for Houston?

James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images) /

The Sixers have won eight straight and appear to be finally finding some rhythm offensively. So, why are we talking about James Harden’s free agency? According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Harden is “seriously considering” a return to the Houston Rockets next summer.

Harden, who will be 34 years old when the free agency period rolls around, has the ability to opt out of the second year of his two-year, $68.6 million contract. The Rockets, meanwhile, are expected to be swimming in cap space.

There was already smoke, but with Woj’s report, the flames are now plain to see. Harden clearly has love for Houston and will consider a reunion.

Will James Harden really leave the Sixers in free agency?

Right now, it’s far too early to make definitive declarations about the future. Harden brushed aside the report in his post-game availability on Christmas Day. The Sixers are winning a lot right now and Harden’s chemistry with co-star Joel Embiid is evolving right before our eyes. Over the Sixers’ eight-game win streak, Harden is averaging 21.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 12.8 assists on .450/.410/.800 shooting splits. He is playing superb basketball and, whatever concerns he may or may not have about the future, it’s clearly not impacting his effort level at the moment.

The Sixers are bonafide title contenders. Embiid and Harden is arguably the most dynamic offensive duo in the sport. With Boston and Milwaukee finally showing signs of weakness, the East is looking more and more winnable. The Sixers aren’t favorites, but there’s absolutely a path to glory.

The same cannot be said for Houston. The Rockets have plenty of young talent, but even Harden isn’t enough to make them real contenders. A move to Houston would be born out of Harden’s love of the community, not a desire to bolster his Hall of Fame résumé. And look, that’s perfectly fine — Harden has every right to play where he wants to play. But after forcing his way out less than two years ago and jumping ship again one year later, the optics of Harden’s hypothetical Houston reunion would be confusing, to say the least.

The Sixers should not panic. Not yet. It’s clear Harden remains a priority for Daryl Morey and the front office, as he should. And Harden’s strong working relationship with Morey can’t be discounted. There’s plenty of time left for Embiid to bolster his relationship with Harden and strike a more cohesive balance offensively (we’re already seeing positive signs). If Doc Rivers is giving Harden pause, one has to imagine the Sixers would fire their coach before letting Harden walk out the door.

In the end, it will probably come down to the postseason. If the Sixers flame out early again, it could persuade Harden to value the comfort of Houston over faux contention. If the Sixers prove they can make a deep run, however, it would be hard to justify bolting for the Rockets. Unless Philly wins the ring and Harden decides to take a victory lap in Houston before saying bon voyage, which is suitably sentimental and poetic.

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