The Philadelphia 76ers’ sole focus right now is beating the Boston Celtics in round two. But, it’s easy for fans to look ahead to the offseason with extreme trepidation — especially with Philadelphia emerging as significant underdogs against Boston.
James Harden’s upcoming free agency has been a topic of conversation since Christmas, when rumblings of his potential reunion with the Houston Rockets first emerged. Now those rumors are heating up significantly.
According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, the Rockets’ coaching search involved conversations with potential candidates about summertime improvements to the roster. One potential improvement discussed was, of course, the widely speculated return of James Harden.
"“Houston’s long-rumored potential reunion with Harden, the 76ers guard who holds a player option for 2023-24, in addition to the Rockets’ chances at landing other primary free agents and top-billing trade targets this offseason, were repeated themes throughout Houston’s conversations with coaching candidates, sources said.”"
Is James Harden all but lost for the 76ers?
The Philadelphia 76ers should obviously want to keep Harden around, regardless of how the playoffs end. With limited financial flexibility and a stark dearth of draft capital, the Sixers have essentially no path to filling the hole Harden would leave. Philadelphia would suddenly become very reliant on Tyrese Maxey taking another leap in productivity.
If Houston is openly discussing the idea of Harden with coaching candidates, that’s not the best sign. The Rockets recently landed on former Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, who coached Harden briefly as an assistant with the Brooklyn Nets. Upcoming free agents Khris Middleton and Jaylen Brown were also part of Houston’s speculative conversations with coaches, according to Fischer.
Harden’s love for Houston is no secret, and any return to the Rockets would be largely driven by his love for the city. He’s not going to find a better chance to win than with Philadelphia, but the comforts of Houston, combined with a suitable co-star of Middleton’s caliber, for example, could be quite tempting for the 33-year-old. Especially if he’s keen on playing a more central role offensively than he does in Philadelphia.
The Sixers and their fanbase have to be worried at this point. A championship would assuage many concerns, but with Embiid’s new knee injury and Harden’s struggles at the rim in the Brooklyn series, it’s hard to have confidence in Philadelphia ousting the Celtics and surviving the gauntlet of two further playoff series.
Only time will tell, but it certainly looks as if Houston is planning some major improvements in the near future.