76ers’ James Harden shrugs off rumors about potential return to Rockets: ‘I’m not answering’

James Harden isn’t going to spend any part of his Christmas Day worrying about a decision that he will make several months from now.

Before the start of Sunday’s game between the 76ers and Knicks, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Harden is “seriously considering” a return to the Rockets in free agency if he can’t reach an agreement on a new deal with the Sixers.

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As Wojnarowski noted, this would be a surprising development considering Harden requested a trade out of Houston during the 2020-21 season. The 10-time All-Star was traded to Brooklyn in January 2021, then sent to Philadelphia in February 2022.

When asked about the possibility of rejoining the Rockets before tipoff, Harden “became agitated,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

“Why would you ask me about that on Christmas, man?” Harden said. “You didn’t say Merry Christmas or nothing. You asked me about something that I ain’t even… I’m not answering. I didn’t see nothing.”

After being asked a follow-up question, Harden responded, “I’m not talking right now before the game.”

Harden’s departure is far from a certainty at this stage of the 2022-23 season, of course.

Entering their Christmas Day contest at Madison Square Garden, the 76ers had won seven straight games and sat at 19-12 overall. The Rockets, meanwhile, were floundering at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 9-23. If winning is the deciding factor, re-signing with Philadelphia would be the right choice.

But there may be other considerations. Per Wojnarowski:

Despite forcing his way out of the Rockets in January 2021, Harden has maintained something of a magnetic pull to Houston, drawn to the community, lifestyle and family there, sources said. After what would become relatively brief stops in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, a move back to a rebuilding Rockets franchise would effectively represent comfort and familiarity over an immediate championship pursuit.

Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Sixers in July, taking a significant pay cut in order to help the front office add other pieces to the roster. He has a player option for the 2023-24 season, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

The Rockets are set to have nearly $60 million in cap space in 2023, easily allowing them to bring in Harden if they are interested in a reunion, but re-signing Harden is “expected to remain a priority” for the 76ers, per Wojnarowski.

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