NBA insider explains how Rockets lost out on top free agent target

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Six
Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Six / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Dating back to Christmas, it's been reported that Philadelphia 76ers free agent guard James Harden had interest in returning to the place that birthed him into NBA superstardom: the Houston Rockets. Harden has made no secret about his affinity for Houston's city culture and the Rockets have a projected $64 million in cap space, which leads the league.

Not to mention a glaring need for a point guard, after realizing Kevin Porter Jr. isn't best suited as a floor general and pure point guard. Harden to Houston had been such a sure thing that the league's top draft experts were basing the Rockets' fourth-overall pick on Harden and which skillsets would best complement Harden.

But although the national media led the masses to believe Harden, the league's assists-leader would be back in the Space City, the latest prognosis on Harden's return seem bleak, to put it politely. In fact, Kelly Iko of The Athletic went even further on Wednesday's recording of The Ikosystem-Rockets Free Agency Preview.

"In recent days, I've understood that Houston is no longer an option for James. I would call them out of the running. All signs are pointing to him staying in Philadelphia."

Iko went into great detail to explain exactly what happened throughout the course of the NBA offseason to change The Beard's mind on a return to the Rockets.

"Back around the New Year, it made sense. Point guard is Houston's biggest area of need and James was identified pretty quickly as the best option in this year's free-agent class. 

After the lottery, when the Rockets got the fourth pick, you realized that that fourth pick further cements the fact that this is a team in the middle of a rebuild. It's pretty hard to find a trade with the fourth pick to find a player good enough to come in.

The more and more the weeks came in from the combine, Harden's camp realized from a basketball perspective, is Houston the best option. Because Harden would be walking in to a team that's not constructed yet...there still isn't a team in place that he can come in and say okay can they get to the play-in, the playoffs. And if you don't, that's also added scrutiny as well."

NBA insider explains how Rockets lost out on top free agent target

Iko added that Harden had an interest in joining the Phoenix Suns prior to the arrival of Bradley Beal, which caught Harden by surprise. Iko also explained how the Sixers' offseason played a part in Harden's change of plans.

"Nick Nurse came to Houston, when Danuel House opted out of his contract, and he met with James.

In that meeting, I'm told that James was pretty on-board with everything that Nick Nurse was saying, in terms of trying to find new ways to optimize him, trying new ways to revamp and re-tool that Philadelphia 76ers offense. 

From a basketball perspective, that makes more and more sense now."

Iko also mentioned Harden's contract demands as a key figure in his decision-making process.

"James was never interested in taking any kind of discount. Not two years in a row.

He made $34-35 million this year. He can stand to make around $50-52 million. He was not going to take a discount and the Rockets were never going to pay him that kind of max money."

Iko reports that a three-year deal worth $150 million could be on the table for Harden in Philadelphia, while also noting that it's no sure thing.

The Rockets will now have to shift gears now that their reported top free agent option is no longer in the fold, according to Iko.