The possibility that Sixers guard James Harden might return to Houston in free agency this summer remains as strong as ever, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. League sources expect the Rockets, who will have ample cap space, to aggressively pursue Harden once he turns down his $35.64MM player option. Sources close to Harden confirm to Iko that he’s considering the move.
Harden forced his way out of Houston two years ago after the loss of coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey. His relationship with the organization appeared confrontational — he reported late and out of shape to training camp and having numerous clashes with coaches and teammates — but sources tell Iko that it never became acrimonious. Harden was disappointed that the Rockets were no longer contenders, and management was unhappy with how he handled the situation.
Harden still has a good relationship with team owner Tilman Fertitta and has maintained strong ties in the Houston area, Iko adds. Also, former Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin, a good friend of Harden’s who played a role in his desire to come to Philadelphia, sold his stake in the team last June.
Money will be an important factor in Harden’s decision, Iko notes, which gives the Sixers an advantage. Holding his Bird rights, they can offer up to a projected $272MM over five years, while Houston and any other potential suitor will be limited to four years at about $202MM. Iko states that if he stays in Philadelphia, Harden will expect to be compensated for taking a deal below his market value last summer to help the team sign several free agents.
There’s more from Houston:
- After returning Tuesday from a groin injury, Jalen Green is thankful that the damage wasn’t worse, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The injury sidelined the second-year guard for two weeks and forced him to miss the Rising Stars event at All-Star Weekend. “I actually called Coach the other day and was just telling him, ‘The last 24 games, I’m with you,’” Green said. “’I’m ready to lock in. Whatever we’ve got to do, we’ve got to string together some wins.’”
- Coach Stephen Silas is optimistic that Kevin Porter Jr., Green’s backcourt partner, will be able to return Wednesday night, Feigen tweets. Porter has been out of action since January 11 with a foot contusion.
- Today is the last day that players can agree to a buyout and still be eligible for the postseason with their new team, which makes it significant for Frank Kaminsky, notes Ben DuBose of RocketsWire. Of the four veteran players the Rockets acquired at the trade deadline, Kaminsky is the only one left on the roster — John Wall, Danny Green, and Justin Holiday were all released.