James Harden’s tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers may have a fast-approaching expiration date, with one insider saying it is a “foregone conclusion” around the league that he will leave this summer to rejoin the Houston Rockets.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on December 25 that Harden had an interest in returning to his former team, and analyst Bill Simmons believes it may now be something of a done deal. Speaking on The Bill Simmons Podcast this week, he said that word around the league is that Harden has already made up his decision about leaving the Sixers.
James Harden’s Philly Exit Coming, Bill Simmons Says
Simmons said he believes Harden has his next move planned out, leaving the Sixers in free agency this summer to rejoin the Rockets — and likely finish his career there.
“He’s only year 14 and it does feel like there’s a little bit of an endgame to this Philly thing,” Simmons said, noting a story from The Athletic that described Harden’s continuing bond with the Rockets. “I would have been made if I was a Philadelphia fan because it just felt like there were a lot of breadcrumbs being dropped, and in the whisper circles everybody seems to think he’s going back to Houston. Does that add urgency to this, or is that just where this is going?”
Simmons went on to say he got the same feeling a few years ago, when it was an open secret that LeBron James was planning to join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
“Now it seems like a foregone conclusion, if you talking to anyone around the league, they’ll be like, yeah, Harden’s going back to Houston,” he said.
Harden Could Be Angling to Make Move
Some insiders believe that Harden is already laying the groundwork for his impending exit from the Sixers. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported in February that he hired his first full-time agent since 2017, when his then-agent Rob Pelinka left to become general manager of the Lakers.
Charania noted that Harden had shown some loyalty to the Sixers in the previous offseason, declining a $47.4 million player option to instead sign a two-year, $68 million deal that gave the team more financial flexibility.
“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.
But there could be some roadblocks to the Sixers’ hopes of signing Harden to a new deal, Bryan Toporek of Liberty Ballers noted. He pointed out that they are limited by the “Over 38” rule, which applies to contracts that cover four or more seasons with at least one of them starting after a player has turned 38. Because of this rule, the Sixers can offer Harden only a four-year max contract rather than a five-year max.
But the situation doesn’t seem to worry the Sixers too much. Kelly Iko and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that a high-ranking team source said they were “unconcerned” about possibly losing him this offseason.