Should Rockets expect James Harden to take a pay cut to return?

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers - Game One
Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers - Game One / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

You've heard the rumors by now. James Harden reportedly wants to spin the block and reunite with his ex: the Houston Rockets. 

And a disappointment in the 2023 postseason could reportedly be the impetus for Harden's return to the Space City. More specifically, anything short of the Eastern Conference Finals for the Philadelphia 76ers could be the nail in the coffin for Harden's departure from the City of Brotherly Love. 

Harden will be an unrestricted free agent, as he signed a two-year deal with the Sixers worth $68.6 million, with an opt-out after the first season (better known as a one-plus-one). Under Harden's deal, he made $33 million in 2022-23, a move made by The Beard to help the Sixers add former Rockets P.J. Tucker, Danuel House, and De'Anthony Melton.

But don't expect Harden to do that again when he inevitably opts out this offseason, and especially not after a season in which he led the league in assists and averaged 21 points on 38.5 percent from three. First off, the aforementioned additions didn't have a drastic impact in the win-loss column for the Sixers, as they went from a 51-31 record to a 54-28 record, improving from the fourth seed in Harden's first season with Joel Embiid to a third seed this past season.

Jalen Rose explains why the Houston Rockets shouldn't expect James Harden to give them a hometown discount

And according to ESPN's Jalen Rose, Harden didn't have much of a choice but to accept a lower number from the Sixers last offseason anyways, which is why the Sixers were able to ink him to such a low number.

 Rose alluded to this on ESPN's NBA Countdown Playoff Preview.

"That's been overplayed to me about the taking less thing. He wanted to get more. He couldn't get more. So therefore he had no choice but to take less."

This approach could ultimately be the catalyst for a return to Houston, as the Rockets have an upcoming $61 million in cap space this summer and are ready to foot the bill, in hopes of concocting a contending roster.

Harden's full max, which is partly based on his years of service or total experience, would be $210 million, if he stays with the Sixers. If he were to sign with a new team, like the Rockets, the number is slightly lower, going down to $201 million.

And although Harden has an affinity for the culture that exists within the city (to put it politely), that won't be enough for him to give the Rockets a pay cut. As the old saying goes, money talks, and everything else walks.