Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden is making a big career move just months before he has the chance to jump into free agency.
As The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported, Harden has hired his first full-time agent since 2017, when then-agent Rob Pelinka took a job as general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. The move could be a prelude to a career change for Harden, who has the ability to become an unrestricted free agent in July and has reportedly been interested in the idea of rejoining a former team.
Harden Hires Former Adidas Executive as Agent
As Charania reported, Harden is now represented by former Adidas executive Troy Payne with Equity Basketball. Payne is a former player, having been drafted in the NBA D-League in 2011 and later playing for the National Basketball League’s New Zealand team in 2013-14.
Charania noted that Harden declined a $47.4 million player option last summer and signed a two-year, $68 million contract to return to the Sixers. The discount was seen as a way for the Sixers to stay competitive in their quest for a title.
“His decision to take a pay cut of nearly $15 million for this season gave the 76ers the financial flexibility to sign forwards P.J. Tucker and Danuel House using the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions,” Charania noted.
Charania added in an appearance on Fanduel TV that Harden could also have his long-term career in mind, noting that hiring a new agent could be for his post-career endeavors as well as an immediate jump into free agency.
Rumors of a Return to Houston for Harden
The move comes months after a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Harden could be interested in a return to the Houston Rockets in July should he decide against a new deal with the Sixers. Wojnarowski reported in December that “Harden and his inner circle have been openly weighing Houston in recent months” and that his relationship with the Rockets had been repaired since forcing a trade more than two years ago.
Wojnarowski also reported that Harden has maintained strong ties to the Houston community.
“Despite forcing his way out of the Rockets in January 2021, Harden has maintained something of a magnetic pull to Houston, drawn to the community, lifestyle and family there, sources said,” Wojnarowski reported. “After what would become relatively brief stops in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, a move back to a rebuilding Rockets franchise would effectively represent comfort and familiarity over an immediate championship pursuit.”
The move could be a major change for Harden, who would be leaving a Sixers team near the top of the Eastern Conference for a still-rebuilding Rockets team. But Wojnarowski noted that the Rockets will have plenty of salary cap space and an interest in making a jump back into contention, which could come from adding the veteran Harden to a young core of Jalen Green, Jabari Smith, Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Sengun.
Harden’s decision could also change depending on how the Sixers fare in the postseason. At 37-19, the Sixers stand in third place in the Eastern Conference and are just three games out of first overall.