There are multiple levels to the idea of ‘winning’ influencing Harden’s decision. The Rockets are clearly less equipped to win now. No matter how successful the Rockets’ offseason ends up being, they will not acquire a player of Embiid’s caliber. Harden is playing with the reigning MVP; how much more could he ask for?
And yet, therein lies the dilemma for Harden. The Rockets might not be able to win, but… can the Sixers win? Philadelphia is currently in the hole, down 1-2 to the clearly superior Celtics. The Sixers could turn the series around — especially if Harden elevates his performance level — but another second-round exit would cast into doubt this team’s ability to win as currently constructed. And, given the forthcoming financial restrictions tied to the new CBA, it won’t be easy to Philadelphia to retool around Embiid and a max-contract Harden.
If Harden doesn’t feel great about his chances to win in Philadelphia, and he doesn’t feel great about his role, then there’s a perfect storm facilitating his return to Houston. The Rockets might not be able to win the championship, but they can probably spend enough money to field a first-round (or even second-round) playoff team. And right now, in this specific moment… that’s what the Sixers feel like.
We cannot write the full story on Harden’s 76ers tenure until the Boston series resolves. If the Sixers make a push and pull off the unexpected comeback, then all of a sudden the stars have aligned in Philadelphia’s favor; they’d have home court the rest of the way. If the Celtics take care of business as expected, then Harden’s future with the team becomes quite murky. Even if the Sixers want to keep him (and the if factor is becoming increasingly more prominent), can they?