76ers' James Harden Responds to Rockets Rumors: 'I'm Excited to Be Here'

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIDecember 25, 2022

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) reacts against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022, in New York. The 76ers won 119-112. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger

The Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden addressed rumors that he's considering a return to the Houston Rockets in free agency in 2023 after his team's 119-112 road win over the New York Knicks on Sunday.

"I'm here," he told reporters, per Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire. "We're playing very well and I don't know where that report came from, but I'm excited to be here and we're playing very well. We're continuing to get better."

On Sunday morning, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Harden is mulling heading back to Houston, where he played from 2012-2021, if he does not re-sign with the 76ers.

"Harden and his inner circle have been openly weighing Houston in recent months, sources said, a remarkable possibility given that he requested and received a trade out of the franchise less than two years ago," Wojnarowski wrote.

Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract in July, but he has a player option for the 2023-24 campaign.

Harden has been on fire over the past two games. He posted a 20-point, 21-assist, 11-rebound triple-double in a 119-114 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday before adding 29 points, 13 assists and four steals against the Knicks.

The 76ers have moved to 20-12 on the season, having won eight straight games thanks largely to Harden and MVP candidate Joel Embiid.

The 33-year-old Harden is exhibiting tremendous form right now and could be playing himself into a far more lucrative deal this offseason.

The Rockets can certainly afford it, as Keith Smith of Spotrac and Celtics Blog noted:

Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA

I project the Rockets to have $59.3M in cap space this summer.<br><br>And that's without sacrificing any of their young core.<br><br>That's more than enough to add James Harden and to have enough left over to add more talent around him, along with keeping all the kids.<br><br>Interesting scenario!

Houston is in full-on rebuilding mode with an exciting young core of Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Tari Eason, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengün, Kenyon Martin Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr.

Under the leadership of Harden, the Rockets' rebuild could be greatly accelerated. They are 9-23 and sitting at last in the Western Conference right now but will get yet another lottery pick to use this year assuming they miss the playoffs.

Of course, Philadelphia could ink Harden to a long-term deal as well. The team's only significant financial commitment past the 2023-24 season right now is to Embiid, who inked a four-year, $196 million supermax extension through 2027.

For now, Harden and the 76ers march forward as they search for their ninth straight win when they visit the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on Tuesday.