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Philadelphia report: James Harden expected to join Rockets as free agent

For months, many NBA observers have wondered whether the constant reports of rumored interest between James Harden and a Houston Rockets reunion could be a means of exerting leverage over his current team, the Philadelphia 76ers, for a better contract.

That doesn’t appear to be the case in Philadelphia, though, where the Sixers could be bracing for his departure in 2023 free agency.

Keith Pompey, a longtime 76ers beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote this in a story published Friday morning:

The belief among NBA executives is that James Harden will rejoin the Houston Rockets this summer.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta “loves” the 76ers point guard. The franchise expects to reunite with him, sources say. Before hiring Ime Udoka on April 25, head coaching candidates were asked for their opinion on coaching Harden during the interview process, according to sources.

Sources have said his interest in returning to Houston is mutual and not a ploy to get a lucrative deal out of the Sixers. His mother still lives in the city. He has several business ventures there. As one source said, “he’s treated like a god in Houston.”

Harden, who led the NBA in assists during 2022-23, averaged 21 points (44.1% FG, 38.5% on 3-pointers), 10.7 assists, and 6.1 rebounds in 36.8 minutes this season. By June 29, he must make a decision on his 2023-24 player option and whether to enter free agency.

Considering his strong season, and the fact that he turns 34 years old in August, most league analysts expect Harden to decline that option and enter free agency. Based on his recent success, Harden should have enough leverage to force teams into a multiyear contract offer, which he might not have if he delays free agency until 2024 and risks injury and/or some other age-related decline.

The big question, of course, could involve where Houston’s bid comes in relative to one from Philadelphia. But if all things are close to equal, it sounds as if Harden’s heart could be in Houston.

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Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire