Three James Harden Free Agency Destinations
By Liam McKeone
James Harden's season ended in disappointment yet again as the former MVP completely disappeared when the Philadelphia 76ers needed him most. Harden had only nine points in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics and failed to score a point in the fourth quarter from Game 5 through Game 7. He was essentially invisible outside of his stunning Game 1 explosion and the three-pointer he hit in Game 4 to tie up the series. Any and all doubt about who Harden is as a player should be gone by now. He is a great distributor who can score at the highest level on occasion but simply cannot be relied upon to deliver in the postseason.
Harden's latest playoff failure is a poor audition for his upcoming free agency but he will still have plenty of suitors as a household name who led the league in assists this year. Harden can opt out of his contract this summer and will very likely do so as he seeks the last big deal of his career. There have been rumors in great quantity regarding his desire to return to Houston, so we know they'll be in the running, and Daryl Morey will not let Harden leave the Sixers easily even after all this.
Let us take a look at a few possible landing spots for Harden in the near-certain possibility that he hits the open market come July.
They flamed out in embarrassing fashion to Boston on Sunday but this version of the Sixers was quite good! They hit the 54-win mark, their highest total since Allen Iverson stepped over Ty Lue, and the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll was the most efficient play in all of basketball. Harden led the league in assists and facilitated Embiid's MVP season. It was not enough to get over the hump and reach the Eastern Conference Finals but neither side should take too much heatfor wanting to run it back. Harden knows Morey will pay him well and the Sixers are pretty limited in terms of their options if he walks.
On the other hand... we all watched what happened last week. This version of the Sixers will not win a championship unless Tyrese Maxey takes an absolutely massive leap, which is possible but not likely. The goal is to win titles and a team led by Harden and Embiid isn't going to get it done. With more help, maybe. But signing Harden with the goal of keeping the roster mostly together will end in nothing but heartbreak for fans yet again.
So I guess I was wrong and those Harden-Rockets rumors were legit! After hearing all about Harden wanting to go back to Texas for the last six months, Adrian Wojnarowski hammered it home yet again today as he reported it is a "very real possibility" that both sides will push for a reunion this offseason no matter what happens with the Rockets and the lottery.
While this still makes zero sense if Harden wants a chance to "compete" as he stated in his season-ending press conference it is, in many ways, a good fit for both sides. Harden gets to go back to the town where he's a hero and play low-stakes basketball until he decides he's done. The Rockets have the money to spend and are in desperate need of a veteran to keep things steady. Whether or not Harden is the right man for that job is apparently irrelevant. Again, it makes no sense from any basketball standpoint but if both sides want it, why stand in their way?
Here's a weird one! NBA Radio host Brian Geltzeiler reported on Monday that the Suns are a dark horse destination for Harden. That's a long way from considering Phoenix a legit threat to steal Harden from Philly but it does make a certain amount of sense. The Suns want to move off Chris Paul and have a new owner willing to go above and beyond to win games in great quantity. Nobody would have to worry about Harden not scoring if he's on a team with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. It's basically the same idea the Nets had except the Suns swap out Kyrie Irving for Booker, which is such a massive upgrade it's laughable.
This would be tricky because the Suns would need Philly's cooperation to pull this off in a sign-and-trade. It would probably feature Paul as the centerpiece which is not terribly enticing for Philadelphia and Phoenix already unloaded most of their assets to get Durant. Plus, the idea of replacing an injury-prone aging point guard whose scoring days are behind him with... another injury-prone point guard whose scoring days are behind him is not airtight. But if Phoenix wants the big name and a guy who Durant likes, you can't rule them out.