REPORT: Execs Believe James Harden is Heading Back to Houston This Summer

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REPORT: Execs Believe James Harden is Heading Back to Houston This Summer

Chicago Bulls, NBA

James Harden could be headed back to the Western Conference.

A rumor for the bulk of the season, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported on Friday that the “belief among NBA executives” is that Harden will return to the Houston Rockets in the coming months. The 10x All-Star is expected to opt out of his $35.6 million deal for next season and become an unrestricted free agent.

Harden spent eight full seasons in Houston where he broke out as one of the NBA’s brightest stars. He took home 2018 MVP award, made All-NBA First Team six times, and finished as the league’s scoring champion three times. The marriage finally came to a close during the 2020-21 season when he demanded a trade to the Brooklyn Nets. After appearing in just 80 games with the franchise, he once again asked for a trade, ending up with Joel Embiid in Philly.

Throughout this movement, his connection to the Rockets has remained strong. And it’s why Pompey reports that rival teams aren’t the only ones who anticipate Harden to come back to the place his career exploded.

“Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta “loves” the 76ers point guard,” Pompey wrote. “The franchise expects to reunite with him, sources say. Before hiring Ime Udoka on April 25, head coaching candidates were asked for their opinion on coaching Harden during the interview process, according to sources.”

Now, it’s important to note that the 76ers do have the ability to offer him more money than any other team. But whether or not they’d want to extend a four-year maximum deal for the 33-year-old point guard is a reasonable question. While Harden had a couple of strong playoff games, he’s long suffered in the postseason and is undoubtedly entering a new phase of his career.

The Rockets, meanwhile, are in line to have more cap space than any other team in the NBA. They also recently hired Ime Udoka to be their next head coach, suggesting that they could be in line to target some big-name talent and attempt to re-enter the competitive mix. One way to accomplish that would undoubtedly be by re-signing a player like Harden.

All eyes will now fall on the Rockets as free agency emerges. Not only would the move be a drastic one for the franchise, but it could hold significant ramifications for the Eastern Conference. How will Joel Embiid feel about losing his co-star? Would Philly immediately be in the market for another key contributor? If not, can we expect them to be among the conference’s best again next season?

I’m ready for the drama!

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.