The Philadelphia 76ers have some decisions to make this summer with their free agents. Chief among them is James Harden, who has a player option this summer that he may opt out of for a longer-term, more expensive deal.
It’s for that very reason that Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report believes Harden is a flight risk for the Sixers this offseason because of the rumors of a possible return to the Houston Rockets.
“Even if you rolled your eyes at the reports that the former MVP has an itch to rejoin the bottom-feeding Houston Rockets, and even if you’re convinced there’s some kind of wink-wink understanding between Harden, Sixers president Daryl Morey and team ownership about a max contract being on the table if Harden declines his $35.6 million player option, the whole back-to-Houston thing felt at least a little bit real. There was something to it in a ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ kind of way.”
Hughes does not believe that Harden leaving is likely, but the fact that it’s a possibility could spell trouble, which is why he calls Harden their biggest flight risk.
“Is it likely Harden will ditch a contender to rejoin a lottery team that should have no interest in a ball-dominant, declining star? Maybe not. But it’s possible, and the damage that could do to the Sixers, who couldn’t just go out and sign another $35 million player with cap space, would be substantial.
“Relatively low likelihood but exceptionally jarring to the stability of the team is exactly the kind of risk profile that belongs here.”
Insider Gives Harden’s Chances of Leaving a ‘Seven Out of Ten’
Rockets Insider Kelly Iko revealed what he believes are the odds that Harden leaves the Sixers to come back to the Rockets.
“I’m putting it at a seven out of 10. I think where there’s smoke, there’s fire. James loves this city. He loves those guys on the roster, the young players in Houston. He has ties to the city’s businesses. His home is here. Crazier things have happened, so, don’t call me crazy, but you might be seeing something different,” Iko said.
Record-wise, the Sixers have been the fourth-best team in the league at 38-19, while the Rockets are the worst team in the league in that regard at 13-45. Despite possibly playing for a lesser team next season, all indications are that Harden returning to Houston could be a very real possibility in the offseason.
Insider Says Sixers Have to Pay Harden or Lose Him
On the February 16 episode of “Clap Your Hands,” Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice said that, with the way Harden has been playing this season, not only will he opt out of his contract this summer, but the Sixers will have to pay him the max, or he will leave.
“The big story might be less about this season and more about that guy is opting out and asking for the full max and you either giving it to him, or he’s leaving because he is worth that in this current form, and I don’t think he’s taking less than that if I had to guess.,” Neubeck said.
While Harden is averaging 21.4 points, 10.8 assists, and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 45.1% from the field and 38.9% from three, he is also aging. If they give him the max this summer, the first year of that contract starts when he’s 34.