By now, the Houston Rockets' interest in James Harden is well-documented. The Rockets want their franchise icon to come home and even allowed Harden to train at the team facility in 2023, in spite of Harden being on the Philadelphia Sixers.
Depending on who you listen to, Harden's return to the Rockets is a foregone conclusion. The Rockets need a point guard and want to return to postseason play, while Harden misses the Houston nightlife, which saw him become one of the more popular figures in the city.
Should the Rockets still want James Harden after the latest news?
The Sixers have essentially been making it known to the Rockets that they aren't going down without a fight in the Harden chase, as the franchise opted to part ways with former coach Doc Rievrs, who Harden reportedly wasn't fond of. The latest Harden news should make the Rockets walk away from the Harden chase, however, as Harden's expectations are a bit lofty.
According to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report, Harden is seeking a four-year deal, which should be a non-starter for the Rockets, as it could easily leave them with another John Wall type of contract on their books in two years. But not only that, Harden is reportedly wanting to revert back to his style of play during his Rockets' days, which Haynes explains.
"The Houston Rockets have long been a rumored destination, but sources say Harden will only entertain suitors that present a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself, sources say."
If Harden wants the basketball freedom to "be himself", the Rockets should run for the hills. We've seen what Hardenball can lead to: gaudy statlines during the regular season and a worn-down Harden in the postseason. Not to mention four other players in the starting lineup standing around in awe of Harden, not touching the ball until late in the shot clock oftentimes.
Harden is simply no longer the player that is capable of this style of play. This also puts a damper on the vision that many Harden enthusiasts had for a Harden return to the Rockets, as many thought he could be the equivalent of Chris Paul with the Phoenix Suns or even the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Harden has maintained a facilitator role in Philadelphia, averaging a league-leading 10.7 assists in 2022-23, so many thought he would help set up Jabari Smith Jr. and Jalen Green for open looks. But if he doesn't enjoy this role and wants to be able to simply get buckets, the Rockets should shift their focus elsewhere. And especially if Haynes' other tidbit is to be believed (which I don't know why it wouldn't be):
"If Houston is all in on a Harden reunion, it will take some roster reconstructing to entice Harden."
It would be bad for the Rockets to allow Harden to hold the same roster influence as he had in his earlier days, because we saw how that backfired for the franchise, as the Rockets made sure to bring in his preference of players, only to crash-and-burn shortly thereafter.
At the end of the day, Harden is still a highly productive player. Fringe All-NBA even. And the Rockets, at this stage, would be hard-pressed to land a better player on the market for this team.
But if Harden comes with these demands, they'd be better suited to simply walk away.