The Philadelphia 76ers won their Christmas Day game against the New York Knicks, 119-112, in Madison Square Garden. But despite picking up a win over a division rival during the NBA’s showcase regular season slate, another Sixers story garnered all the headlines, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that star guard James Harden was “seriously considering” returning to the Houston Rockets if he hit free agency in the summer.
On Wednesday, a new report by Sam Amick and Kelly Iko of The Athletic once again brought up a potential reunion between Harden and the team with whom he became a league MVP. After indicating that the Rockets made clear that Harden is “always welcome back here” after his trade — which was described as “far closer to an amicable split than bitter divorce” — the report says that Harden is open to returning with open arms.
This possibility, which was born out of those parting talks and first reported by ESPN in late December, is as strong now as ever. Sources, who like all of the other sources in this story were granted anonymity so that they could speak freely, have told The Athletic Houston is widely expected to pursue the 13-year veteran point guard if, as is expected, he declines his player option for the 2023-24 season. And even more surprisingly, sources with knowledge of Harden’s outlook say he’s as serious about a possible return now as he was when he left town.
Of course, Harden leaving his current situation in Philly would be a bit strange, as he’d have to give up his crucial role on a team with legitimate championship aspirations that can give him a longer contract with more money for familiarity in a city that lays claim to the worst team in basketball over the last few seasons. This is why, per The Athletic, the Sixers are “unconcerned” about potentially leaving Harden, which “is rooted in the belief that only Philadelphia can provide the two things Harden holds most dear: A chance to contend for a title, and maximum earning potential.”
Harden joined Houston via a trade in 2012 and a little more than eight seasons with the team. In that time, he earned an MVP award and multiple All-NBA First Team nods, and has maintained strong ties to the city despite his departure. His tenure with the Rockets came to an end in January of 2021 when the team traded him to the Brooklyn Nets, and after 13 months in his new digs, Harden got traded to the Sixers.
Currently, Harden is averaging 21.6 points and a league-high 10.7 assists per game and is connecting on a career-best 39.3 percent of his attempts behind the three-point line. Philadelphia holds a 39-21 record, which has them sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference.