6 reasons why a Houston Rockets and James Harden reunion is a bad idea

N.B. Lindberg
Charlotte Hornets v Philadelphia 76ers
Charlotte Hornets v Philadelphia 76ers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages
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On Christmas day, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski released a bombshell story on James Harden’s 2023 summer plans. While the headline was “Sources: James Harden mulling free agent return to Rockets,” the story made it clear that the Houston Rockets are not Harden’s first choice destination, and staying in Philadelphia with the Sixers remains his preferred option.

Of course, that didn’t stop the media or fans from running with the story. Harden was asked following the Sixers’ Christmas day game about the report and had this to say. (What a coat)

That wasn’t the strongest rebuttal, but in today’s NBA, too strong a protest is just as suspicious as a feeble one. However, in Houston, the takeaway from the Wojnarowski story was James Harden is coming back to Houston, the rebuild is over, our suffering can stop, and the prodigal son will return. Even if Harden is serious about a return, which I doubt, I still think it’d be a bad decision for both sides, and here are six reasons why. 

Reason #6: Harden to Houston is a negotiation tactic 

I can’t prove this, but I know it’s true. Let’s start with the facts. James Harden took less money in the offseason to allow the Sixers to add reinforcements. It resulted in the Sixers getting slapped with two tampering penalties, but it netted them to land PJ Tucker and Danuel House. While Harden took less money this season, he did give himself a player option for 2023. 

It doesn’t take a forensic accountant to understand that Harden and the Sixers engaged in some shenanigans. Harden took less money to help the team in the short term and will be rewarded on the backend with a maximum contract. So how do the Rockets fit into all of this?

The Rockets will likely have the most cap space to play with in 2023 free agency. The other teams that can open up over $40 million in cap space are the San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Pacers, Pistons, Hornets, and Thunder all already have their point guard of the future, and the Spurs are going to stink next season regardless of who they draft. 

The only options that make any sense are the Magic and Rockets. However, the Magic would need to cut Mohamed Bamba, Gary Harris, and Jonathan Isaac to fit Harden in on a max contract. The Rockets, on the other hand, have the cap space and a long-lasting connection to Harden. The threat of Harden returning to Houston is almost assuredly a negotiation tactic to let the Sixers know that Harden isn’t taking a discount again.