5 Philadelphia 76ers who may not return next season

(Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

1. James Harden

Reading about James Harden’s love for the city of Houston is liable to make a man blush. Rather than trying to justify Harden’s potential return to Houston in basketball terms, it’s best to admit the real driving factor here: Harden loves the city and the franchise that treated him like the center of the universe for a decade. And frankly, he earned every bit of it.

Everyone’s favorite adage applies here: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And there’s a lot of smoke about Harden returning to the Rockets in free agency. Philadelphia can only pay marginally more than Houston and they simply cannot offer Harden the ability to live full-time in Houston.

The Sixers are built to win. They’re one of the hottest teams in basketball and Harden is an absolute world-destroyer offensively right now, slyly manipulating defenses in the pick-and-roll and leading the NBA in assists per game. His chemistry with Joel Embiid has come a long way, to the point where that particular two-man game feels virtually infallible.

And yet, the Sixers could lose in the first round, lose in the conference finals, or even win it all — I’m not convinced the outcome will matter much at all. Kelly Iko of The Athletic put the odds of Harden returning to Houston at 70 percent. There’s an extremely high chance this is Philly’s last chance to win with Harden in the mix. And if he leaves, the path forward will be difficult to navigate.