Stop the presses if you haven't heard this before: James Harden and the Houston Rockets could be headed toward a reunion. Harden, the NBA's assists-leader in 2022-23, could decline a player option worth $35.6 million, hoping for a larger payday.
The Rockets, a franchise looking for a floor general, would be enthused to bring back a franchise great, who has averaged double-digit assists in each of the last three seasons. But could the Rockets be allowing a potential Harden return to affect their upcoming draft decisions?
The Rockets, who hold the fourth pick in this year's draft, have surely realized the need to get the pick right, as it could net them their best draft prospect for several years, especially with a team seeking to transition to phase two of the rebuild that Harden essentially created.
According to Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, the Rockets could be basing their draft selection at pick 4 around Harden's return.
"Meanwhile, conversations continue to swirl around James Harden's expected return to Houston and how that will impact the Rockets' pick at No. 4."
As always, it's unknown which sources Wasserman has or who he's hearing this from, but it's coming from somewhere. And Wasserman isn't exactly viewed as someone to write off.
Are the Rockets investing too much in a potential James Harden return?
If the Rockets' pursuit of Harden has any impact on who they draft with the fourth pick, that would be rather concerning, to say the least. Although the Rockets' fanbase is split on a Harden return, practically everyone would agree that Uno, who turns 34 before the 2023-24 season starts, will be a short-term experiment in the Space City due to his age.
For this reason, the Rockets shouldn't allow Harden to affect their draft strategy. Remember, they'd be drafting a player in their early 20s (if not their teens), so their playing days will extend significantly further than Harden's prohibitive second stint in Houston.
In other words, if the franchise would be selecting Scoot Henderson or Amen Thompson if they miss out on Harden, they should hold the same strategy even if he returns. If the franchise ranks Cam Whitmore higher than Thompson, they should be drafting him whether Harden returns or not.
For what it's worth, Rockets GM Rafael Stone was asked this exact question and gave Rockets fans a sigh of relief by stating that the franchise's vision is to select the best player available when they draft, as opposed to allowing other factors to influence the pick.
Let's hope this is, in fact, what the Rockets intend to do, as Harden would be a bridge, not the savior.