James Harden

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Nash, Fernandez, Raptors’ Draft, Simmons

James Harden‘s free agency will likely come down to re-signing with the Sixers or signing up for a second stint with the Rockets, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on the Ryen Russillo podcast (hat tip to RealGM). Harden is expected to decline his $35.64MM option.

“I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home,” Charania said. “That’s where his roots are and his family there, of course. They (the Rockets) have got upwards of $60 million (in cap space). They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • As of Monday, neither former Nets coach Steve Nash nor Kings associate head coach Jordi Fernandez had been invited for a second interview for the Raptors head coaching job, according to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. However, the front office is taking its time on hiring Nick Nurse’s replacement, so they could eventually be called in for another interview. There’s no immediate need to fill the position, since assistant GM and VP of player personnel Dan Tolzman and his staff are handling draft preparations.
  • Speaking of the Raptors’ draft, they hold the No. 13 pick in the first round. Eric Koreen of The Athletic discusses a handful of candidates they could consider at that spot, with Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin and Kansas’ Gradey Dick viewed as the best fits if they’re still available, since the shooting guard position is in flux.
  • The Nets’ Ben Simmons posted a couple of workout images on social media, indicating that he has moved from rehab and recovery to getting back on the court, Nets Daily relays. Simmons didn’t play after Feb. 15 due to a nerve impingement in his back. He could be added to Australia’s roster for the FIBA World Cup if he’s healthy enough to play later this summer.

Rockets Rumors: Coaches, VanVleet, Lopez, C. Johnson, Brooks

The Rockets are in strong pursuit of Celtics assistant coach Aaron Miles, who worked under Ime Udoka until he was suspended by Boston before the 2022/23 season started, Kelly Iko reports in his latest mailbag for The Athletic. Sources tell Iko that Udoka, who was hired by Houston after the team declined its option on Stephen Silas‘ contract, is also looking for a non-Celtics assistant to join his staff.

Iko’s reporting came in the context of a reader asking about how adding multiple assistants might impact current Rockets assistants John Lucas II and Mahmoud Abdelfattah. Lucas has been running pre-draft workouts for the team, which seems like a strong sign he’ll be sticking around, whether it’s as an assistant or in some other capacity. As for Abdelfattah, Iko says the assistant coach has drawn “legitimate interest” from rival teams, and suggests he might have a new job if Udoka hires both targets he’s pursuing.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • They plan to be aggressive in signing veteran free agents with their projected $60MM+ in cap room. Houston is emphasizing a lead ball-handler first, with James Harden their top target, according to multiple reporters. But what happens if he stays with Philadelphia? According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has “often been linked” to the Rockets as a fall-back option.
  • Beyond a point guard, the Rockets are looking for help on the wing and in the middle, sources tell Fischer. They have been connected to Khris Middleton, but that seems unlikely now, as rivals believe he’ll stay with the Bucks. However, sources tell Fischer the Rockets are interested in his teammate, center Brook Lopez, who is set for unrestricted free agency if he doesn’t sign an extension first. Iko reported a few weeks ago that Lopez, who was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2022/23, could be among the Rockets’ targets.
  • Fischer also confirms Iko’s reporting that the Rockets like forward Cameron Johnson, but hears the Nets have signaled they plan to match any “realistic” offer sheet for the restricted free agent. Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks is another player the Rockets like, and Fischer suggests he might be a more practical option.

And-Ones: Expansion, Free Agency, Adelman

NBA commissioner Adam Silver made his latest statement on the possibility of expansion during an interview Sunday on NBA TV (video link).

Silver has repeatedly said that the idea of adding teams won’t be considered until after the 2024/25 season. The league wanted to get its new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, which has been done, and negotiate its new media rights deal before thinking about expanding.

“I think it makes sense over time, if you’re a successful organization, to continue to grow,” Silver said. “There’s no doubt there are a lot of great cities we’re interested in having in the NBA.”

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Lakers guard Austin Reaves is among the upcoming free agents who boosted their value during the NBA playoffs, writes Frank Urbina of HoopsHype. Reaves was already headed for a big payday, but his importance to the team was on display during L.A.’s run to the Western Conference Finals. Reaves will be restricted, so the Lakers can match an offer from another team, and Urbina believes he might get more than the $52MM over four years that L.A. can offer before he explores the market. Lakers forward Rui Hachimura, Heat guard Gabe Vincent, Clippers guard Russell Westbrook, Nuggets swingman Bruce Brown, Nets forward Cameron Johnson and Suns center Jock Landale also make Urbina’s list.
  • James Harden and Kyrie Irving are the top names on HoopsHype’s updated list of this year’s best free agents. The former Nets teammates will be the most-watched players on the market this summer, with Harden rumored to be interested in returning to Houston and Irving possibly not a lock to re-sign with Dallas. Kristaps Porzingis, Fred VanVleet and Khris Middleton round out the top five. The same five players are at the top of a free agent list compiled by Alex Kennedy of Heavy.com.
  • The National Basketball Coaches Association announced Sunday that Rick Adelman is this year’s winner of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Adelman ranks 10th in career coaching wins with 1,042 and reached two NBA Finals with the Trail Blazers.“Chuck was a great coach and respected by all those who coached against his teams,” Adelman said. “To receive an award like this I have to thank all those who helped me along the way, in particular my assistant coaches and front offices. I would also like to thank the players I had through the years. Their effort and cooperation made everything I did possible. Good players make coaching much easier.”

Sixers Notes: Harden, Nurse, Embiid, House

Asked during his introductory press conference this week about how he’d pitch James Harden on coming back to Philadelphia and playing for him next season, new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse told reporters that “winning has to be the sell,” according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

“‘Can we be good enough to win it all?’ That’s got to be a goal of his,” Nurse said. “And if it is, then he should stay here and play for us, because I think there’s a possibility of that.”

According to Nurse, he has already touched base with Harden and intends to meet with him – and every other player on the roster – in the not-too-distant future.

As Bontemps writes, Nurse also said that a combination of talent on the roster and stability at the ownership level made Philadelphia his top choice as a sought a new job following his exit from Toronto. Nurse was also said to be in the mix for the coaching vacancies in Milwaukee and Phoenix — both teams have undergone ownership changes in recent months.

Here’s more on the Sixers:

  • Nurse said during this week’s press conference that his years of experience game-planning against Joel Embiid with the Raptors should come in handy as he attempts to get the most out of the reigning MVP going forward, per Rich Hofmann of The Athletic. “We threw everything, almost everything you could possibly throw at a guy,” Nurse said. “It was that hard for us to try to stop him. We threw a lot at him. So, at least I think that we can offensively say, ‘This is what we did, and here’s how we can beat it,’ and we’ve almost covered most things.”
  • Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com has a few more quotes from Nurse’s presser, including the new Sixers coach stating that he won’t necessarily be looking to reuse the strategies and playing styles he utilized with the Raptors. “What we did in Toronto, it’s just trying to maximize what the roster looked like,” Nurse explained. “We really had to generate turnovers to get out and score, transition, and in 2018 it was a different roster. We did have (Marc) Gasol so we played a different style and a different defense, and it’s going to be whatever’s best for this team.”
  • Following Danuel House‘s decision to pick up his player option for 2023/24, Neubeck wonders at PhillyVoice.com whether we should expect House to play a role similar to the limited one he had in ’22/23 or if Nurse will want to try to get more out of him.

Sixers Notes: Harden, Embiid, Rivers, Offseason

As the rumors linking to James Harden to the Rockets persist, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggests it’s still an open question whether those leaks are primarily aimed at generating leverage for Harden in his talks with the Sixers. Appearing on Pardon The Interruption (video link) this week, Windhorst suggested that Philadelphia is reluctant to give Harden a maximum-salary contract, especially if no rival suitors are willing to do so.

“The 76ers have not shown an appetite to pay Harden the max,”Windhorst said (hat tip to Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire). “That’s why they asked him to take a pay cut last year. The Rockets have the cap space. Do they do it? You know, there’s been a very hard rumor out there in the NBA about Harden’s intent to go back to Houston, and it makes you wonder if it’s being sold a little bit too hard and that’s certainly something that people are considering.

“I guess we’re gonna wait and find out, but again… the Sixers are not really motivated to pay him that max salary if they don’t think anybody else is gonna do it.”

Based on current cap projections for 2023/24, a four-year maximum-salary contract for Harden in Philadelphia would be worth approximately $210MM. A five-year deal is essentially impossible due to the NBA’s over-38 rule.

Here’s more on the Sixers:

  • In a mailbag for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Keith Pompey writes that Joel Embiid is “untouchable” for now and opines that Nick Nurse would be the best head coaching candidate for the 76ers’ star center.
  • While opting to replace Doc Rivers after three years was a reasonable decision, Rivers didn’t do a bad job this postseason and there probably wasn’t a coach who would’ve put the Sixers over the top this year, Rich Hofmann of The Athletic says within a mailbag on the team’s approach to the offseason. Hofmann also discusses Embiid’s future in Philadelphia and the club’s salary cap outlook, among other topics.
  • In part two of his mailbag, Hofmann evaluates Tobias Harris‘ trade value and identifies some possible free agent targets for the Sixers in the event that Harden walks. Donte DiVincenzo, Bruce Brown, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, and Seth Curry are among the players that could be of interest to Philadelphia in free agency, in Hofmann’s view.
  • Each of the Sixers’ rumored head coaching candidates has their own set of baggage, according to Mike Sielski of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscription required), who identifies the red flags for Mike Budenholzer and Nurse, among others.

Southwest Notes: Morant, Mavs, Rockets, Beverley

Following a series of cryptic social media posts from Ja Morant, police in Tennessee visited the home of the Grizzlies star to check on him, a spokesperson for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office tells TMZ Sports.

Morant had published Instagram stories telling his mother, father, and daughter that he loved them, followed by one that was simply captioned, “Bye.” He deleted them a short time later.

The police spokesperson tells TMZ Sports that Morant is “fine” and that he told the officers who came to his home that he’s simply taking a break from social media.

Morant has been suspended indefinitely from all team activities by the Grizzlies after an Instagram Live video appeared to show him brandishing a gun. The NBA’s investigation into that video is ongoing — given that Morant was suspended during the season for a similar incident, there’s an expectation that he’ll be facing another suspension at the start of the 2023/24 season.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Tim Cato of The Athletic breaks down some reasons why the Mavericks should trade the No. 10 overall pick and some reasons why they’ll consider keeping it. In Cato’s view, Dallas is more likely to move the pick than to hang onto it, but it remains to be seen how valuable a trade asset it will be — there may be some higher lottery picks available on the trade market, and the first- and second-tier prospects in this year’s draft class will likely be gone by No. 10.
  • While much of the focus in Houston is on the No. 4 overall pick, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required) notes that the Rockets also control the No. 20 selection and considers which prospects could be on the team’s radar at that spot. Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino and Ohio State’s Brice Sensabaugh are among the prospects in that range who get a look from Feigen.
  • Asked on his podcast about the possibility of reuniting with James Harden in Houston, where he spent five seasons earlier in his NBA career, free-agent-to-be Patrick Beverley expressed enthusiasm about the idea of joining the Rockets and called Ime Udoka a “great” coach (Twitter video link via Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston).

Rockets Rumors: No. 4 Pick, FA Targets, Coaching Staff, More

Multiple teams have already expressed some level of interest in acquiring the Rockets‘ No. 4 overall pick, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

It remains to be seen just how much value that pick will have and whether it would be enough to be the centerpiece of a deal for an impact player, Iko writes. Because the draft is perceived to have a drop-off after No. 3, Houston is also considering whether it would be possible to move up into the top three with a package centered around the Nos. 4 and 20 overall picks, league sources tell Iko.

If the Rockets keep their lottery pick and there are no surprises in the top three, Overtime Elite wing Amen Thompson could be the player atop Houston’s board, according to Iko, who says that several people within the organization are high on Thompson. Iko hears that both Amen and his twin brother Ausar Thompson had positive interviews with the team at last week’s combine.

No matter what happens with the No. 4 pick, the Rockets intend to be aggressive in their pursuit of veterans this offseason, with a desire to improve their play-making, shooting, and defense, Iko adds. League sources tell The Athletic that James Harden is Houston’s top free agent target, with Brook Lopez, Dillon Brooks, Donte DiVincenzo, Jordan Clarkson, Cameron Johnson, and Austin Reaves among the other players the team may pursue.

Acquiring an established point guard will be a primary objective for Houston this summer, per Iko, so if they miss out on Harden, the Rockets could explore a trade for a veteran like Mike Conley or Chris Paul.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • New Rockets head coach Ime Udoka recently traveled to Los Angeles to visit with Jalen Green, says Iko. That time spent with Green – which included workouts and a dinner – is part of Udoka’s efforts to get to know his new team before the fall. “I’ve gotten the chance to spend a lot of time with the players. Got some lunches, dinner, gym time with guys,” Udoka told Iko. “Also been busy putting together a staff, getting to know everybody, but the most important thing is to spend time with the guys, build a relationship with them, and I’ve done quite a bit of that.”
  • Speaking of Udoka’s staff, Iko reports that assistant coaches Lionel Hollins and Rick Higgins aren’t expected to be back with the Rockets next season. However, it’s unclear whether or not Mahmoud Abdelfattah – another assistant under Stephen Silas – will return. Abdelfattah was part of the Rockets’ contingent at last week’s combine and has frequently been at the club’s facility since the end of the season, sources tell The Athletic.
  • The Rockets could be the long-term winners of the blockbuster trade that sent Harden to Philadelphia and Ben Simmons to Brooklyn, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Houston controls the Nets’ first-round picks from 2024-27 (either outright or via swaps) and may be in position to steal Harden away from the Sixers this offseason.

Rockets Reportedly Expect To Land James Harden

The Rockets expect to reunite with James Harden this offseason, sources tell Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to Pompey, the belief among executives across the NBA is that Harden will return to Houston. Sources tell The Inquirer that the 33-year-old’s interest in rejoining the Rockets is genuine and not a negotiating tactic to get a bigger contract out of the Sixers. Houston has the cap room necessary to offer him a maximum-salary deal.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta “loves” Harden, according to Pompey, who hears that coaching candidates during Houston’s search for Stephen Silas‘ replacement were asked during their interviews about their thoughts on coaching Harden.

For his part, the veteran guard still has family and business ventures in the city, where he spent eight-and-a-half years of his NBA career. He also visited Houston multiple times this past season when time permitted, says Pompey.

Very little from Pompey’s report is new information.

Word of a possible reunion between the Rockets and Harden first broke on Christmas Day and was corroborated a couple months later. Jake Fischer reported last week that Harden’s name came up frequently during the Rockets’ interviews of head coaching candidates, while Adrian Wojnarowski said the draft lottery outcome wouldn’t affect Houston’s level of interest in the former MVP. Earlier this week, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Zach Lowe agreed in a podcast that the Rockets “think he’s coming.”

Still, even if Pompey’s report isn’t surprising, it’s noteworthy to see a Philadelphia beat writer state in such strong terms that a return to Houston is the expected outcome for Harden.

The Rockets have been one of the NBA’s worst teams since trading Harden to Brooklyn in January 2021, but they’re motivated to turn things around in 2023/24 since they’ll send their ’24 first-round pick to Oklahoma City if it lands outside of the top four. Multiple reports have indicated that the organization wants to acquire veteran talent this summer.

Although Harden missed out on All-Star honors this year for the first time since 2012, he still posted strong numbers during the regular season, averaging 21.0 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists, and 6.1 rebounds per game with a .441/.385/.867 shooting line in 58 appearances (36.8 MPG).

His playoff production was inconsistent — his overall averages of 20.3 PPG, 8.3 APG, and 6.2 RPG were solid, but he shot just 39.3% from the field during the postseason and averaged only 12.5 PPG in four losses to Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

We still have nearly a month-and-a-half before free agency officially begins, so even if Harden declines his 2023/24 player option with the Sixers, as he reportedly will, things could change in the next six weeks.

Philadelphia will have the ability to offer him more money than the Rockets, though Houston can afford to be aggressive, with the ability to create approximately $60MM in cap space. Harden’s projected maximum salary will be $46.9MM.

Given that the Rockets have the cap room necessary to sign a Harden outright, they’d have little incentive to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with Philadelphia. The 76ers, meanwhile, wouldn’t be in position to create meaningful cap room if Harden left in free agency, so they could be left in a tough spot in that scenario.

As Pompey notes, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey told reporters this week that the team’s priority is re-signing Harden.

“Scenario A would be to bring James back,” Morey said. “Scenario B, if he’s not back, we’ll have to get creative.”

Atlantic Notes: Dowtin, Raptors, Simmons, Harden-Doc

Raptors reserve point guard Jeff Dowtin underwent surgery on his right ankle, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). Lewenberg adds that Dowtin will be in a walking boot for about two weeks, and will recuperate under the supervision of the Raptors’ medical staff over the summer.

Signed to a two-way deal with Toronto, Dowtin appeared in 25 games for the club, averaging 10.4 MPG. With the Raptors’ NBAGL affiliate, he averaged 16.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 4.2 RPG and 1.7 SPG.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The Raptors have the No. 13 pick in this summer’s upcoming draft. Eric Koreen of The Athletic speculates about how Toronto will handle the draft selection. Koreen is fairly confident that the Raptors will hold on to the lottery pick to add a solid young player, rather than trading it.
  • Nets guard Ben Simmons has moved on to the next phase of his rehabilitation from the nerve impingement that ended his 2022/23 season, per Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “Ben has been cleared to progress to his next stage of his rehab and is progressing really well,” his agent Bernie Lee told Lewis this week. “And we remain very excited about his ability to return to form next year.”
  • Sixers point guard James Harden has been pinpointed by Doc Rivers staffers as a key behind-the-scenes factor in the ex-head coach’s departure from the team, sources inform Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. Fischer cautions (Twitter link) that any possible Harden influence in the choice to move on from Rivers would have been one of several elements impacting that decision.

Rockets Notes: No. 4 Pick, Thompson, Porter, Harden

The Rockets will listen to trade offers for their No. 4 pick and they expect a lot of interest around the league, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Houston is hoping for a turnaround next season after spending three straight years in the league’s bottom three, and Iko indicates that the Rockets’ front office would have considered dealing the pick with any lottery outcome short of landing No. 1 and the chance to draft Victor Wembanyama.

“We’ve been looking at this draft for three years,” general manager Rafael Stone said after the lottery results were announced. “This is a really good draft. Very confident that there are uber-talented players that will be available.”

General counsel Clay Allen, who represented the team in the lottery room for the third straight year, admitted being more nervous this time because a potential franchise player like Wembanyama was at stake. According to Iko, Allen mostly sat in silence after the results were official and he realized that the French big man had gone to the division-rival Spurs.

“Severe disappointment,” Allen said. “This is my third year here. We’ve gotten the second and third picks in the past. I was really hoping we were going to be No. 1. … You can’t affect this at all, but you don’t want to let people down.”

There’s more on the Rockets:

  • Overtime Elite star Amen Thompson is aware that he’s listed fourth in many mock drafts, and he told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle that he would be excited to come to Houston if that’s how the draft plays out. Thompson has a meeting scheduled with the Rockets at the NBA Draft Combine on Thursday after holding sessions with the Magic and Trail Blazers on Wednesday. He listed several aspects of his game that he believes can help a team right away. “Getting to the cup, getting in the paint, facilitating, defense — that’s already ready,” Thompson said. “The shot’s going to come. Everything’s going to come. I’m not a finished product yet.”
  • Kevin Porter Jr. spoke to players at the combine on Wednesday at the invitation of the NBPA, Feigen adds in another Chronicle story. Porter also sat with Stone and new Rockets coach Ime Udoka as they watched one of the scrimmages.
  • In a separate piece, Feigen examines the risks and rewards of a potential reunion with James Harden. A report earlier today stated that Harden will turn down his $35.6MM player option for next season in hopes of signing a long-term contract.