76ers rumors: James Harden leaving for Houston as likely as ever

James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers are all-in on winning the championship this season. That said, fans could be forgiven for looking ahead to the summer of 2023 with mild trepidation. Whether the Sixers bow out in the first round, win a ring, or finish somewhere in between, the lingering possibility of James Harden bolting for his beloved Houston feels as strong as ever.

According to Sam Amick and Kelly Iko of The Athletic, sources familiar with the situation — and even key players on the Sixers roster — believe a Harden reunion with the Rockets is likely. Maybe even inevitable.

The Sixers are currently 39-21, putting them 4.5 games back of the first-place Bucks. Harden’s chemistry with Joel Embiid has blossomed noticeably over the course of this season, and the former MVP’s production remains gobsmacking: 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 10.7 assists on 62.0 percent true shooting.

Could James Harden really leave the 76ers?

Ultimately, Harden’s future will be determined by what his priorities are. In Philly, he’s well positioned to compete for a championship in the waning years of his career. The Sixers can also pay Harden the most money, assuming Daryl Morey and ownership don’t lowball the superstar they sacrificed so much to bring in.

In Houston, Harden has the comforts of the place he calls home, a strong relationship with management and ownership, and perhaps more freedom to explore his interests off the court. On the flip side, Houston is currently the worst team in the NBA with arguably the worst coach and a well-documented lack of structure or accountability. Does Harden really want to spend the final years of his historic career chaperoning an unproven group of young players?

There’s no inherently right or wrong choice here. If Harden wants to live in Houston, that’s his right. More power to him. If he wants to stay with the Sixers and compete for championships, that would obviously please the Philly faithful.

The most interesting question is, how will the Sixers’ ultimate postseason fate impact Harden’s decision-making? If Philadelphia pulls off the improbable and finally wins a championship, does that actually set up Harden for a peaceable farewell and a long retirement tour back in Houston? If the Sixers make a deep run but ultimately come up short, does that motivate Harden to stay in Philly for some unfinished business?

It will be fascinating to monitor the situation as it unfolds. The link between Harden and Houston is undeniable, and it feels like there’s a very real chance — even a probability — that the 33-year-old ultimately decides to return to the franchise where he spent eight historically productive years. Needless to say, if Harden does leave in free agency — and Philly doesn’t reach the mountaintop if June — it would put the Sixers in a very precarious position.