How eliminated Rockets can still play spoilers in the NBA playoffs

Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks
Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Prior to the Christmas Day tip-off between the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a bombshell, or a Woj bomb, as it's known to be called: James Harden would be interested in returning to the Houston Rockets, should the Sixers flame out in the playoffs. 

Harden was less than two full seasons removed from demanding a trade from the Rockets, after growing weary of carrying the load of leading the Rockets to contender status annually. Harden's final words as a member of the Rockets were that he didn't think "it could be fixed" and that he didn't think the team was good enough.

Harden was initially dealt to the Brooklyn Nets, in a deal that sent the Rockets a historic haul of draft picks, before being dealt to the Sixers one season later. The Sixers have thrived in 2022-23, thanks to the Joel Embiid and Harden duo, en route to a 54-28 record, good for third-best in the Eastern Conference. 

Harden and Embiid made history, becoming the first teammates in the association to contain a scoring champ and assists leader since George Gervin and Johnny Moore did with the San Antonio Spurs in the 1981-82 season, as Embiid averaged a league-leading 33.1 points while Harden averaged 10.7 assists, easily a league-best. 

Harden also made history of his own, becoming the first player in NBA history with three scoring titles and two assist titles. With Embiid and Harden thriving in their first full season together, this is the year for Philly. Everything is riding on this postseason.

How James Harden's potential Rockets return could derail the Sixers' postseason

It's expected that Philly will make changes to their make-up if the team doesn't reach the Eastern Conference Finals, as that could signal a new coach in the big chair and, you guessed it...Harden to change uniforms, although not everyone is in agreement with giving Harden a max deal.

But with a potential Harden exit looming in the balance, many believe the Sixers are facing unwanted pressure.

And because of the power that Harden has over the situation, ESPN's Jalen Rose deems The Beard to be the most intricate part of the Sixers' postseason, as Rose stated his case on ESPN's NBA Countdown Playoff Preview.

"He could be the person that actually leaves. So James Harden actually holds the key to their postseason."

Loaded with $61 million in cap space, a need at the point guard spot, and a personal connection with the 2017-18 MVP, the Rockets figure to be Philly's main competition for Harden's services. Not only has there been no mention of any other team, there's also the fact that Harden seemingly has a key to the Toyota Center, where he seems to train whenever he's in Houston (hopefully Adam Silver isn't reading this).

Whether Harden holds the key to the Sixers' postseason or not, he could dictate the future for both the Rockets and Sixers, one way or another.