The Phoenix Suns made unsuccessful runs at shooting guards Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo this summer, ultimately settling for holdover Shannon Brown to man the position, perhaps in conjunction with swingman Jared Dudley.
The Oklahoman's John Rohde reasons that the former Arizona State Sun Devil could very well return to the state in which he played two seasons of college ball.
This leads to the following conclusion: If Harden goes to market, he won't return in 2013-14.
The pressure for Harden stems from whether he will remain in OKC or be drawn back to the desert.
Harden instantly would become a hometown drawing card with the Suns, not to mention their starting guard.
The Suns might have to make some minor roster adjustments to afford the four-year, $60 million deal Harden would command. Given that the team already projects to be nearly $10 million under the cap next season, those adjustments needn't be earth-shattering.
Opportunities to play in familiar environments and to secure a starting job would be nice perks, but they're hardly the only draws the Suns could advertise.
Harden would be paired alongside a promising young facilitator in Goran Dragic, a solid scoring option in Michael Beasley and one of the league's best up-and-coming centers in Marcin Gortat.
In other words, he'd have help, but he'd also have opportunities to lead.
Head coach Alvin Gentry also has attempted to have his Suns push the tempo, albeit to a lesser degree than his predecessor, and Harden is no stranger to that kind of pace in OKC. He'd give Phoenix a go-to option in half-court sets and a non-stop scorer in the open court.
Relocating his talents to Phoenix wouldn't just be a fitting story—it actually makes some basketball sense, too.
Speculation about such a move is only natural and not just because the Oklahoma City Thunder might find keeping Harden to be prohibitively expensive.
According to The Republic's Dan Bickley, Harden would be at least theoretically open to the notion of playing with the Suns:
Yeah. Of course. I love it there. My mom lives there still. So that's definitely my second home as far as my comfort level and going to school there. But obviously, I'm with the Thunder right now and what we have is special.
No, it's not a commitment, but nor is it a bad sign for Phoenix. After all, Harden's fate isn't in his hands alone. If the Thunder can find enough money under the cushions, they'd be hard-pressed to let Harden walk. It might even drive the organization to part ways with center Kendrick Perkins or otherwise tweak the roster to free up some funds.
Keeping Harden is by no means out of the question, but Suns fans can dream, can't they?