NBA Insider Says James Harden Torn Between Philly Or Houston In Free Agency | Does The New Coach, Culture In Houston Need An Aging Superstar With Playoff Failures?

The Philadelphia 76ers had their promising season come to an end in an epic seven-game second-round series loss to the archrival Boston Celtics.

Doc Rivers was fired afterward by the Sixers, who also might lose ten-time All-Star and three-time scoring champion James Harden, who has a player option for the 2023-24 season.

Will he opt in? Will he opt out? 

That’s the magical question. It’s not like Harden’s dismal playoff performance did anything to up his cachet, but he’s still a shot-caller of sorts.

Per NBA insider Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, Harden is currently trying to figure out what he wants to do next season, return to Philly or finally head back to Houston where he became an MVP and ascended to NBA superstar status. 

“My sense right now is this is someone that it torn,” Charania said this week. “I think whichever way it goes, it’s going to be relatively close.”

Rockets Should Steer Clear Of Harden And Stick To Young Nucleus

With the hiring of former Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, the Rockets have someone who showed in one season with the Celtics that he knows how to build a culture. That will be vital in Houston with all the youth on the roster.

Entering the 2023-24 NBA season, the Rockets are currently the second-youngest team in the league at 23.5 years. Only the OKC Thunder are younger, and while Udoka and the Rockets front office would love to add some veterans to the locker room, Harden just isn’t the right guy for that team. 

His ball-dominant “ISO” style isn’t gonna work with Udoka, who already has his work cut out for him in getting the talented but selfish Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. to use their teammates more. With developing bigs like center Alperen Sengun and 2022 No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr., the Rockets should be running offensive sets through that position more than they did last season. 

Also expect Udoka to emphasize the defensive end, which was his calling card in Boston last season as he led the Celtics to the brink of a championship with elite-level defense. Harden won’t do anything to help the Rockets in that area, so you take his way of playing offense and his career-long lack of defensive effort and he won’t help mentor the young, impressionable Rockets, who need leadership in any vets they sign. That means leading by example, and not spending game nights at the strip club, which is what he was known for during his first stint in H-Town. 

In 2022-23, 83 percent of the team’s minutes were played by the youth movement of the Rockets. 

Rockets Would Be Wise To Ask About Celtics Star Jaylen Brown 

Instead of bringing Harden back, the Rockets should inquire about a trade for Jaylen Brown, who played for Udoka in 2021-22 and knows what he expects. Brown would provide the Rockets with the veteran star they need who can help groom the players that remain after the trade.

Brown is only 26, but he’s been in the league for seven seasons and has ascended into a borderline superstar. 

No matter what they decide, Houston has the No. 4 overall pick in this month’s draft, which could net a quality piece to build with or include in a trade for a player like the aforementioned Brown. 

The train has probably passed Harden, but who knows.

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