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All-Star guard James Harden is seriously considering returning to the Houston Rockets this July if he decides to sign a new contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, sources told ESPN.

Harden and his inner circle have been openly weighing Houston in recent months, sources said, a remarkable opportunity considering he requested and received a trade from the franchise two years ago.

His future with the 76ers remains a fluid proposition, buoyed by seven straight wins heading into a Christmas Day matchup with the New York Knicks (noon ET on ABC and ESPN). Harden has been playing effectively with All-NBA center Joel Embiid, and the state of that partnership and the Sixers’ postseason success could be telling factors in how Harden continues this season. The deep playoff experience of a frenzied, hungry market in Philadelphia could have a positive effect on his thinking, just as the effects of an early exit could.

Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Sixers, including a player option for 2023-24 that allows him to return in free agency this summer. The Sixers are 19-12, fifth in the East, and look to have blossoming star Tyrese Maxey back in the coming week.

Despite leaving the Rockets in January 2021, Harden has maintained a magnetic pull to Houston, drawn to the community, lifestyle and family there, sources said. After relatively short stops in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, returning to a rebuilding Rockets franchise will effectively introduce comfort and familiarity right into the championship chase.

The Rockets are loaded with salary cap space and the appetite to make significant improvements in the standings next summer. Rockets officials will have to evaluate how they think Harden’s arrival will benefit the development of their core of young talent, including Jaylen Green, Jabari Smith and Kevin Porter Jr., but his size and talent still make him an attractive proposition.

After Houston with Embiid and Kevin Durant, Harden continues to develop as a point guard. He leads the NBA with 10.9 assists per game, including a career-high 21 in Friday’s win over the LA Clippers.

Harden had eight more All-Star seasons with the Rockets, a stretch that included a 2018 MVP award and a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Harden won three straight scoring titles with the Rockets and finished second behind Hakeem Olajuwon in all-time franchise points and first in assists.

After cycling through a roster that included Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Harden became disenchanted with the Rockets and eventually the Nets. The Sixers traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and two future first-round picks to the Nets as part of a package to acquire Harden in February.

For all of Harden’s history and ties to Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and CEO Thad Brown, his working relationship with Embiid and coach Doc Rivers is something closer to a work in progress. The Sixers gave up significant assets to acquire Harden, and he is expected to remain a priority to re-sign for a second straight summer.


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