March 01, 2023
Sixers fans spent early 2022 dreaming up ways to get James Harden to Philadelphia, working overtime on the NBA Trade Machine. The Nets finally dealt Harden to Philly for a mix of players and picks with the assumption that Joel Embiid would have his best co-star yet.
That might be true, as Harden has been a dynamic playmaker this season for the third-seeded Sixers, but even after signing a contract with the team this past summer, rumors are still flying about Harden playing elsewhere next year. Those reports point to the same place, Houston, where Harden made his leap from a super sixth man to a league MVP with the Rockets.
The Sixers are 39-21. The Rockets are 13-48. It'd be understandable if you thought the roles were reversed, but they're not.
I don't quite get it.
The latest chatter comes from a new report from The Athletic's Sam Amick and Kelly Iko in an article entitled "James Harden, the Houston Rockets and an undeniable bond that refuses to go away."
The writers discuss Harden being traded from Houston to Brooklyn during the 2021 season, as the relationship between Harden and the organization never fully dissolved.
Here's an excerpt from the story:
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, whose unabashed love of all things Harden was no secret during their three and a half years contending for titles together, had a message to share with his soon-to-be former franchise centerpiece on his way out the door.
“You’re always welcome back here,” he told him in so many words during a goodbye phone call between the two.
But more than two years later, with Harden focused on his championship pursuits with the Philadelphia 76ers these days and the speculation over what he’ll do in free agency already in full swing, the more important part about that final Rockets conversation was what came next. Harden, sources with knowledge of the situation say, made it abundantly clear the feeling was mutual. There were no promises made that day — on either side — but everyone who was part of those final Harden days in Houston knew there were strong indications he’d be back, specifically, in the summer of 2023. [The Athletic/$]
Harden signed a two-year deal with the Sixers this past July with a player option on that second year for $35.6 million. While I don't believe the Sixers are top-tier championship contenders in the league, the franchise's first Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 22 years is possible, right? They're probably going to win 50-plus games for the second time in as many seasons with Harden. Embiid is the best player he's played with since the heights of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook way back in Oklahoma City.
Does he want to just go play on a garbage team and average 35 points per night while missing the playoffs entirely? I don't know! Does he value Texas' lack of state income tax that highly? I'm lost.
Last month, Iko shared similar sentiments on a Houston-area television report, stating that it was a "seven out of 10" chance that Harden returns to a Rockets team he played for across nine NBA seasons.
As I said, Harden has played well this season, much better than he did in 2022 for the Sixers. He's averaging 10.7 assists per night, leading the league. Joel Embiid has been incredible at times, averaging 33 points per game and playing some of the best basketball of his career.
I don't get it. I just don't with this team. Even when things are going relatively well, like having a guy who might win back-to-back scoring titles and having one of the craftiest passers ever average more assists than anyone in the league, something always feels off with the Sixers.
Good times are actually bad times and bad times are actually horrendous times with this team.
The city would adore a fiery postseason run akin to what the Phillies magically pulled off last fall, but why should I give them even the slightest benefit of the doubt that they can get out of the second damn round for the first time in over two decades? The talent and players are there. It never works though. Never.
I'm sure we'll be doing this Harden free-agency dance all spring into the summer.
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