James Harden

Atlantic Notes: Maxey, Embiid, Harden, Raptors, Hauser

Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey is coming to terms with his new reserve role, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Maxey was demoted to a bench role in favor of the more defensively oriented De’Anthony Melton.

“Sometimes you have to be the bigger person,” Maxey noted “I feel like it was kind of trending that way. But I’m a professional at the end of the day.”

The 22-year-old is still having a solid scoring season for Philadelphia, averaging 20.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.0 RPG, and 0.9 SPG.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers’ All-Star tandem of Joel Embiid and James Harden are finally clicking midway through their first full season together, Pompey posits in another article. “He’s so dominant and versatile to where I’m sure he’s never played with a play-maker like me,” Harden said of the Philadelphia center. “So it’s just constant communication to where he hasn’t probably rolled this much before and I haven’t had a big that pops like that.”
  • After an erratic six games at home, the current core players for the Raptors face some big-picture questions, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. At 20-24, Toronto heads toward the February 9 trade deadline with an uncertain future. Smith notes that the team’s front office brain trust of Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster may make some significant changes to the club’s roster if the Raptors can’t start winning. The Raptors boast several movable players on reasonable deals.
  • Celtics reserve forward Sam Hauser has been mired in a major shooting slump for the last month. Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston wonders if team president Brad Stevens may opt to make a trade to replace Hauser’s lagging output for a Boston team with title hopes. Over the past 23 games, Hauser has seen his minutes slashed to 12.2 MPG and his shooting splits have nosedived to .348/.284/.250.

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Toppin, Sims, Durant, Harris, Harden

The Raptors aren’t shopping any of their core players but they’re willing to listen to any offers, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports writes.

Scottie Barnes remains the Raptors’ only untouchable, though a source told Lewenberg it would take a “king’s ransom” to trade either Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby. The rotation player most likely to be moved is Gary Trent Jr., since he could become a free agent this summer and his next multi-year contract could top $100MM.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Knicks forward Obi Toppin returned to action on Monday night after missing a month due to a leg injury. Jericho Sims was the odd man out of the rotation, as he never left the bench, Greg Joyce of the New York Post notes. Sims has appeared in 32 of the team’s 41 games this season. Toppin only played eight minutes.
  • Even before knowing that Kevin Durant would be out for approximately a month, Nets forward Joe Harris said it would be a “massive blow” to the team if he missed significant time, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes. “Obviously [it changes] a lot. He’s a focal point for us, offensively, defensively he’s been an elite rim protector this year. He guards the best players. [It would] be obviously a massive blow for us,” he said. “But at the same time, it presents opportunities for everybody else, and we have a lot of depth for reasons like this for everybody just to step up and collectively try and fill that void.”
  • Sixers guard James Harden admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Vince Goodwill that he misses the days when he was counted on to be the primary scorer and posted huge stats, but indicated that winning a championship is his top priority. “I would love that, but not as much — if that makes sense,” Harden said. “In Houston, I was doing that every single night. It was expected. It’s a lot of times I feel like I can have that same impact on games. But you see the bigger picture. I’m just focused on one thing, man. That’s all that matters.”

Atlantic Notes: Barrett, Brunson, Harden, Harris, Stoudamire

Knicks wing RJ Barrett is expected to miss around a week with a lacerated right index finger, a source tells Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Barrett sustained in the injury just two minutes into Tuesday’s loss to Dallas when he appeared to get scratched by Luka Doncic when the two players were vying for possession of the ball, per Bondy.

The 22-year-old has been ruled out for Thursday’s game against San Antonio, the Knicks announced (via Twitter). Jalen Brunson, who missed his first return to Dallas on Tuesday, is once again listed as questionable with right hip soreness.

Here’s more from the Atlantic:

  • Following up on weekend report indicating that James Harden is contemplating a return to Houston in free agency, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his Lowe Post podcast that there are “whispers around the league” that Harden wants to continue doing one-plus-one contracts going forward — in other words, a two-year deal with a player option (hat tip to RealGM). The star guard went that route last summer with the Sixers in free agency, opting for short-term flexibility over long-term security.
  • The Knicks reportedly had internal discussions about trading for forward Tobias Harris, which prompted Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com to examine the rumor from the Sixers‘ side of things. While Neubeck doesn’t doubt the veracity of the rumor, he also doesn’t think the Sixers would have any interest in what the Knicks might realistically offer for Harris, who has been a valuable contributor for Philadelphia in 2022/23, even if his contract isn’t ideal.
  • Former player and current Celtics assistant coach Damon Stoudamire has accumulated plenty of coaching credits since playing days ended, but Tuesday marked the first time he was the acting head coach in an NBA game, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe (subscription required). Stoudamire, who hopes to become a head coach in the league, filled in when interim head coach Joe Mazzulla unexpectedly missed the win over Houston due to eye irritation, according to Washburn. “We pretty much knew what we wanted to do,” said Stoudamire, who only found out he’d be in charge about 15 minutes before tip-off. “Honestly, it’s a collaborative effort. Everybody plays their part in situations like this. And it’s been like this pretty much all season. For me, it was just a matter of going out there and truly not messing it up.”

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Harden, Melton, Maxey, Tucker, King

Dominant performances from Joel Embiid (35 points) and James Harden (29 points and 13 assists) were the difference in the Sixers‘ comeback win over the Knicks on Christmas Day and served as a reminder that the team’s star power can make up for some shortcomings, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

Before Embiid and Harden really got rolling and helped the Sixers pull away, De’Anthony Melton played a key role in keeping the club in the game, according to Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who notes that the guard began the afternoon by making his first five 3-point attempts.

The performance bumped Melton’s season-long 3-point percentage to an impressive 39.2% and contributed to ongoing speculation about whether he might keep his spot in the starting lineup even when Tyrese Maxey returns from his foot injury.

According to Mizell, it’s hard to imagine Maxey not eventually regaining his starting job, but if he has a minutes limit when he returns, the team could bring him along slowly by initially having him come off the bench. Melton also could find himself playing crunch-time minutes in certain situations where a defensive specialist is required, Mizell notes, since neither Harden nor Maxey is a lock-down defender.

Here’s more on the 76ers:

  • The Sixers’ recent hot streak seems to be renewing enthusiasm about the upside of this year’s squad. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote after Friday’s win over the Clippers that the 76ers are starting to live up to their preseason billing as a title contender, while Rich Hofmann of The Athletic said after Sunday’s victory over New York that the club is finally showing off its offensive firepower. Philadelphia had the NBA’s 17th-best offensive rating (111.2) through its first 24 games, but has posted the league’s third-best mark (118.1) during its current eight-game winning streak.
  • Sixers forward P.J. Tucker revealed on Friday that he has been battling a pinched nerve, which he referred to as a “dead hand,” for the last few weeks, tweets Mizell. Tucker has been playing through the injury, but intends to keep working on it with the team’s trainers and physical therapists, Mizell adds.
  • In the wake of the Sixers signing Louis King to a two-way contract to replace Saben Lee, Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com considers what King could bring to the team, suggesting that the former five-star recruit might be a “more intriguing lottery ticket” than Lee was.

Stein’s Latest: Kuzma, Tampering, Lasry, Rockets, Wood

There’s a rising belief around the NBA that Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma will be “gettable” prior to this season’s trade deadline, Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack story.

Based on the whispers he has heard, Stein has a hard time envisioning Kuzma wanting to remain in D.C. beyond this season. If the Wizards have heard those same rumblings and consider them credible, it would make sense for the club to recoup some value for the standout forward on the trade market rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer.

Kuzma is enjoying a career year in his second full season with the Wizards, averaging 21.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 3.5 APG in his first 33 games (35.4 MPG). He has a $13MM player option for 2023/24, but has already indicated that he plans to decline it to become an unrestricted free agent.

Here’s more from Stein:

  • The penalties the NBA has handed out for tampering and free agency gun jumping have been widely regarded as toothless, Stein writes. “If second-round picks are the only punishment,” one general manager said, “nothing will ever change.” As Stein observes, the NBA made a show of instituting more punitive anti-tampering rules in 2019, but hasn’t taken full advantage of those new measures, including the ability to fine teams up to $10MM for instances of “egregious” tampering.
  • There’s has been increased chatter about the possibility that Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is open to selling his share of the franchise, Stein writes. Lasry and Wes Edens have been the team’s primary owners since 2014.
  • Although it seems unlikely that the Rockets would welcome a reunion with James Harden, given how his last stint with the franchise ended, Stein notes that Houston’s rebuild has progressed slowly so far and says team owner Tilman Fertitta is widely believed to be “antsy” to accelerate the process and return to contention. If that’s true, the Rockets could be in the market for veteran help with their cap room next summer even if Harden doesn’t return.
  • The “consistent signals emanating from Dallas” in the early part of this season have suggested that a contract extension for Christian Wood is unlikely, according to Stein. Still, he points out that the Mavericks big man has been playing well as of late and had some encouraging moments on defense without needing to play alongside Maxi Kleber.

Latest On James Harden

James Harden had little to say about an ESPN report Sunday that he’s considering a return to Houston in free agency next summer, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Whether the report was legitimate or just a way of letting the Sixers know that he won’t be giving them a discount again, Harden denied any knowledge of it and brushed aside questions before Philadelphia’s Christmas Day game.

“Why would you ask me about that on Christmas, man?” he told a reporter. “You didn’t say Merry Christmas or nothing. You asked me about something that I ain’t even … I’m not answering. I didn’t see nothing.”

The two-year, $68.6MM contract that Harden signed in late July contains a player option for 2023/24. Harden could have demanded more money, but his $33MM salary left the Sixers with enough room under the hard cap to sign three of his friends and former Houston teammates, P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and Montrezl Harrell.

Harden didn’t feel like addressing the rumor after the game either, indicating that he’s happy with the Sixers, who have strung together eight straight wins.

“I’m here. We are playing very well,” he said. “And I don’t know where the report came from. But I’m very excited to be here. We are playing well, and we’re continuing to get better.”

There’s more on the Harden rumor:

  • Nets officials were concerned last year that Harden had an interest in going back to Houston, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. Brooklyn considered the Rockets to be as much of a threat as the Sixers were to sign Harden in free agency, Fischer adds. Sources tell Fischer that Harden began to miss playing in Houston, as well as his position with the organization and in the community, shortly after being traded to Brooklyn in January of 2021.
  • Sunday’s report doesn’t change anything about the way Sixers management will approach Harden’s free agency, per Kyle Neubeck of Philly.com. The organization was always prepared for the possibility that the star guard will have other offers to consider. The team is committed to aiming for a championship this season with Harden and Joel Embiid as its main components and will hope to sign Harden to a long-term deal in the offseason.
  • If Harden is considering an exit, any trade involving Tyrese Maxey becomes far less likely, adds Neubeck, who states that the Sixers currently aren’t close to making any deals.
  • Harden could be a welcome addition as a leader for the Rockets’ collection of young talent, suggests Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Houston can have more than $45MM in cap room, and there aren’t a lot of other prime options on the upcoming free agent market. However, Feigen also questions whether Harden would be worth a major investment when he’s about to turn 34.

James Harden Considering Return To Rockets In Free Agency

Just two years after requesting a trade out of Houston, star Sixers guard James Harden is seriously mulling the possibility of returning to the Rockets when he becomes eligible for free agency in the summer of 2023, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

According to Wojnarowski, Harden and his camp have been “openly weighing Houston in recent weeks and months.”

Wojnarowski describes the city as having a “magnetic pull” on the former MVP due to the community, lifestyle, and family he had there. Having spent seven-and-a-half years of his NBA career with the Rockets, Harden could choose to return to Houston if he opts for “comfort and familiarity” over a chance to immediately contend for a title, Woj writes.

However, that doesn’t mean Harden is set on leaving Philadelphia. The Sixers have been on a roll lately and Harden’s on-court partnership with Joel Embiid finally seems to be firing on all cylinders. If that success continues and the team enjoys a deep playoff run in the spring, the 33-year-old guard would likely become more inclined to stick around beyond this season, Wojnarowski writes.

A free agent this past summer, Harden could have signed with the 76ers for up to five years, but decided to negotiate a shorter-team deal, signing a two-year, $68.6MM pact with a player option for the second season.

The contract – which saw Harden accept a significant pay cut – freed up space under the hard cap for Philadelphia to add a couple free agents (P.J. Tucker and Danuel House). There was a belief outside the organization that the agreement came with an understanding that Daryl Morey and the Sixers’ front office would be willing to offer Harden a more lucrative long-term contract next summer.

Although Harden has connections with Morey and CEO Tad Brown in Philadelphia, his working relationships with Embiid and head coach Doc Rivers are more of a “work in progress,” according to Wojnarowski.

However, as Wojnarowski points out, the current version of the Rockets isn’t the same one Harden remembers — his exit came just after Morey and longtime head coach Mike D’Antoni left the organization, and the roster has also undergone a major overhaul in recent years. If Harden is legitimately interested in returning to Houston, the franchise would have to consider how reacquiring him would impact the development of core pieces like Jalen Green, Jabari Smith, and Kevin Porter, Woj observes.

For what it’s worth, Houston projects to have a substantial chunk of cap space, so from a practical perspective, signing Harden as a free agent would be doable. ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link) has the club projected at about $45MM in cap room, and that number would increase without Eric Gordon‘s $20.9MM non-guaranteed salary on the books.

Harden, who has made 10 consecutive All-Star teams, has missed some time due to injury this season, but has been productive when healthy, averaging 21.4 points, 10.9 assists, and 6.6 rebounds in 37.8 minutes per night. His .364 3PT% is his highest mark since 2018/19.

Sixers Notes: Milton, Trade Deadline, Harden, Embiid

Sixers guard Shake Milton, a free agent in 2023, proved critical in helping Philadelphia stay afloat in November without its starting backcourt of James Harden and Tyrese Maxey. He has remained an important role player for the club even with Harden back in the lineup, writes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

“I remember early in my career there used to be highs and lows,” Milton told Fischer. “You never really know what it feels like until you’re in it… You gotta fight internally every day to make sure you’re in a good spot, make sure you’re putting yourself in the best place to succeed. It definitely took me my years to kind of go through that, to know how to move and how to stay with it.”

This season, the 6’5″ combo guard out of SMU is averaging 11.2 PPG on .509/.361/.849 shooting splits for the Sixers across 27 games. He is also contributing 3.4 APG and 3.3 RPG.

There’s more out of the City of Brotherly Love:

  • Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer provides a Sixers trade deadline primer, exploring which players could be moved. Mizell notes that, following an injury-plagued and uneven start to the season, Philadelphia has stabilized into looking like a deep championship contender. The team is currently fifth in the East with a 19-12 record. Still, the club could look into upgrading its frontcourt reserves behind starters Joel Embiid and P.J. Tucker, and could perhaps seek a more traditional backup guard behind starters Harden and Maxey.
  • Sixers All-Stars Embiid and Harden are beginning to truly click as a dynamic duo in their first full season together, writes Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com. “Constant work, constant work,” Harden said of how the two have been working to thrive together. “Talking about it, communication, go out there, do it… Obviously, you want to see each other succeed, so if I ask him something or tell him something and vice versa, he’ll do it.”
  • In their eight contests together since Harden returned from injury, Embiid is posting averages of 36.1 PPG while shooting 56% from the floor, along with 9.9 RPG and 3.8 APG, per Neubeck. “As soon as [the opposing team goes] to the switching, what we’ve gotten better at is just the timing,” Embiid said. “Knowing when he gets the iso, or I get the ball at the elbow, or I go to the post, that’s where we’ve gotten at. Just the timing, us working together, always talking, and he’s been great. Been on him about taking more catch-and-shoot, and he’s been doing that.”
  • Can the Sixers emerge out of the Eastern Conference? Weigh in on today’s Community Shootaround.

Sixers Notes: Melton, Maxey, Tucker, Harden

When the Sixers gave up a first-round pick and Danny Green‘s expiring contract for De’Anthony Melton, they knew they were getting a strong defender who could make a three-point shot, but the former Grizzlies guard has given them “more connective tissue in the half court” than they might have expected, writes ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Insider link).

Melton’s play-making and screening ability has been valuable for Philadelphia, according to Lowe, who notes that the team has scored an average of 1.2 points when a Melton screen leads directly to a shot. That’s 17th among 244 players who have set 50 such screens, Lowe writes, citing Second Spectrum. The 24-year-old has also handed out a career-best 3.3 assists per game.

Melton’s presence has helped the 76ers withstand injury absences for James Harden and Tyrese Maxey in the early part of the 2022/23 season. Despite not opening the season as part of Philadelphia’s starting five, Melton has made 20 starts in 27 appearances so far.

Here’s more on the Sixers:

  • Given how well the 76ers have played with Melton in the starting lineup (they have a 13-7 record in those games), there has been some speculation about the possibility of bringing Maxey off the bench as the leader of the second unit when he returns from his foot injury. Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com considers the case for making such a move, but ultimately concludes that it’s probably not in the team’s best interest.
  • In his latest mailbag for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Keith Pompey also argues against making Maxey the sixth man once he’s healthy. Pompey’s mailbag explores several other topics, including whether the Sixers’ three-year, $33MM+ investment in P.J. Tucker will turn out as poorly as the four-year, $109MM deal they gave Al Horford in 2019 — given the relative size of the two deals, Pompey believes there’s no comparison between the two, especially since Horford was never a good fit, while Tucker is beginning to show overall improvement in his role.
  • In his first seven games back from a foot injury, Harden has averaged nearly 39 minutes per night. However, head coach Doc Rivers isn’t concerned about the former MVP’s heavy recent workload, per Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I’ll guarantee you, by the end of the year, you’ll look at his numbers and they’ll look great,” Rivers said. “It’s a whole year. That’s why we can’t overdo things when guys have a three-week spike in minutes and all of a sudden we’re overreacting to that. You don’t. We’ve been low on guards, and so guys have to play minutes. And James is one of those guys that can handle minutes. But by the end of the year, his minutes will be down.”

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Harris, Sixers, R. Williams, Raptors

James Harden says he was at a “low point” after the Sixers were eliminated in last season’s playoffs by the Heat. Being traded twice in two seasons, dealing with significant injuries, and a couple of tough playoff losses left him “drained and deflated,” according to Yaron Weitzman of FoxSports.com.

The whole two years was a low point. I’ve never really had to deal with something like that,” Harden told Weitzman recently. “My body, mentally, physically … It was a lot going on. I mean, basketball is everything to me.”

The former MVP guard discussed a number of topics with Weitzman, including his reluctance to do interviews (“People will take the smallest thing that I say and basically screw it up and then it becomes a problem“), his desire to have his career be remembered in a positive light (“I’m one of the people that changed the game of basketball. Honestly, the only thing that I’m missing is a championship“), his offseason work to avoid future injuries, acclimating with the Sixers, adjusting his game as he gets older and plays alongside another ball-dominant star in Joel Embiid, and his relationship with the back-to-back MVP runner-up, among others.

When asked about his struggles in playoff elimination games, Harden admits his results have been mixed — but says it’s not entirely on him.

I’ve had a few bad games in close-out games. Not all of them have been bad,” he said. “Quite frankly, a lot of the times our team wasn’t good enough to compete for championships, if you want to be honest. There’s only so much I can do.”

Weitzman’s feature is worth checking out in full if you’re interested in Harden’s career.

Here’s more from the Atlantic:

  • Sixers forward Tobias Harris was ruled out for Friday’s victory over the Warriors due to back pain, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. It was Harris’ third missed game of the season, and it’s unclear what his status is going forward.
  • In another story for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pompey writes that the city’s Chinatown residents continue to be adamantly opposed to the Sixers‘ arena proposal, and recently voiced their displeasure at a contentious meeting. “People are very frustrated about the developer continuing to promote their proposal without thinking about Chinatown people’s anger,” said Wei Chen, the civic engagement director of AAU.
  • Celtics big man Robert Williams made his 2022/23 season debut in Friday’s loss to Orlando. As Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe relays (via Twitter), Williams admits he was a little nervous before the game. I felt great. The nerves were getting me pretty bad before the game. We (bleeping) lost. We gotta bounce back from that,” he said.
  • The Raptors have fallen to 13-16 after dropping Friday’s nail-biter to the Nets. According to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star, the team’s front office is displeased with the up-and-down start to the season, and are keeping a close eye on how players respond while evaluating the roster ahead of February’s trade deadline.