Sixers’ Firing ‘Does Not Guarantee’ James Harden’s Return: Sources

James Harden

Getty James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers

After losing to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it only took the Philadelphia 76ers two days into their offseason to fire Doc Rivers. An Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports’ Sean Deveney that firing Rivers does not ensure that James Harden will stay with the Sixers.

“They fired Doc Rivers, and James might have had a hand in that,” the GM told Deveney. “Maybe that clears the way for him to come back to the Sixers. But they were going to make that move on Doc either way. So, firing Doc does not guarantee that James comes back.”

The exec added that it might not matter what the Sixers do because Harden returning Sixers does not appear likely.

“It is a huge concern. I think the bigger surprise now would be if he DID go back to Philadelphia,” the GM said.

The GM finished by proposing what the Sixers might do next should Harden leave for the Houston Rockets.

“They will try to make it a bigger trade, bring back Damian Lillard or someone like that. But the Rockets have cap space, they do not need to play that game, and they have no obligation to accommodate Philly. It is most likely they get a trade exception, then try to use that throughout the year to bring somebody in. Not ideal, but it is something.”

Sixers Have Not Given Up on Re-Signing James Harden

Though there have been many rumors linking Harden to the Rockets, NBA Insider Marc Stein reported on a Substack chat on May 26 that the Sixers are not giving up on keeping Harden.

“From everything I know, Houston’s interest remains genuine, and Philly has not yet abandoned hope of re-signing him. I know this isn’t the answer everyone probably wants to hear…but I suspect we’re a month away from a real resolution,” Stein wrote.

The reports linking Harden to the Rockets date back to Christmas Day 2022, when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Harden’s interest in going back to his previous team. On May 19, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Harden is expected to return to the Rockets.

However, Stein’s report indicates that the Sixers have every intention to keep him despite the long-standing mutual interest between Harden and the Rockets.

Brian Windhorst Says James Harden is Creating Leverage

On the May 23 episode of “The Hoop Collective,” Brian Windhorst explained why he believes Harden is using the Rockets as leverage for a higher offer from the Sixers.

“I still suspect that all of that is one giant leverage play, that what James Harden really wants is to elicit the biggest offer out of the Sixers, even if it isn’t a max. Whatever the number of money is, for as long as many years as he can get, and that this slow dance for months, and these rumors are all sort of tied to that.”

After adding that Kyrie Irving is doing the same thing with his upcoming free agency, Windhorst explained why he believes both Harden and Irving are playing it this way.

“Just doing all of this, and whatever he may do between now and free agency to try to get the juiciest offer he can from the team that he’s on because those are the teams (the Sixers and Mavericks) that face the most damage from losing those guys.”

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