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James Harden Rumors: Rockets 'Think' PG Will Sign HOU Contract in FA, Leave 76ers

Joseph Zucker

The Houston Rockets "think" James Harden plans to return to them in free agency this offseason, according to ESPN's Zach Lowe and Tim McMahon.

The pair discussed Harden's future on the newest episode of The Lowe Post. Lowe said at the 17:02 mark that "God only knows" what Harden will decide, to which MacMahon responded, "The Rockets think he's coming." Lowe concurred with the sentiment.

Harden can become a free agent this summer by declining his $35.6 million player option for the 2023-24 season. Speculation about whether he'd re-sign with the Philadelphia 76ers intensified after ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported Monday that the 10-time All-Star may not want to play for Sixers head coach Doc Rivers moving forward.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported in December that Harden was already "seriously considering" a reunion with Houston. In March, The Athletic's Sam Amick and Kelly Iko examined the situation in depth and laid out how the 33-year-old has maintained a solid relationship with the franchise.

The Rockets are tied for the highest odds of winning the 2023 NBA draft lottery (14 percent). Getting the No. 1 pick would mean earning the right to select French phenom Victor Wembanyama.

During Get Up on Monday, Wojnarowski said the results of the lottery may have little bearing on Houston's pursuit of Harden.

The Rockets are projected to have $64.2 million in practical salary-cap space, per Spotrac, so they're one of the few teams that could sign Harden outright if he opts out.

The patience of Rockets majority governor Tilman Fertitta might be wearing thin. The team has been terrible for three straight seasons, yet it looks no closer to contending than it did after trading Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in January 2021.

Signing a player with his pedigree, having already hired Ime Udoka has head coach, would provide an instant level of relevance that Houston hasn't enjoyed as of late.

Having said that, not even Harden at his peak would be enough to put the Rockets into the championship conversation. The current version of the 33-year-old may not be good enough to even lift them into the playoffs.

Harden averaged 21.0 points and an NBA-high 10.7 assists in the regular season with Philly, but he had another disappearing act in a must-win playoff game. He shot 3-of-11 for nine points as the Sixers lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

That might do little to dissuade Houston from signing him this offseason, though.


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