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James Harden prioritizing ‘competitive roster’ in NBA free agency: 4 potential options

james harden
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While most assume James Harden will follow the money in NBA free agency the 14-time All-Star reportedly wants to be on a playoff-caliber team in 2023-2024, which could limit his options this summer.

The Philadelphia 76ers are just weeks away from what is set to be a major offseason. After a strong season where they were one of the top teams in our NBA power rankings for much of the last few months, the team saw their season come to a disappointing end in the second round of the playoffs despite having a series lead against the Boston Celtics.

Their frustrating finish quickly led to the firing of head coach Doc Rivers as the first major domino to fall this offseason. The next big question is what happens with No. 2 scorer James Harden. The future Hall-of-Famer is expected to exercise an opt-out option in his bargain contract with the 76ers and there is no guarantee he will re-sign this summer.

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For months there have been rumors the Houston Rockets will make a reunion with the franchise great a top priority in NBA free agency. However, in a new report from Bleacher Report insider Chris Haynes, some doubt was cast on the Rockets being the favorites to land James Harden in July.

“Sources say Harden will only entertain suitors that present a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself,” Haynes reported. That may limit his options this summer since Houston still needs many more pieces to be truly competitive.

With that in mind, let’s look at four competitive fits that could allow James Harden to be himself next season.

Memphis Grizzlies

james harden
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies tried to make a big move at the trade deadline in February but came up empty. After being bounced in the first round of the NBA playoffs, clearly, they need more impact pieces if they hope to be a title contender in the next few seasons.

With Ja Morant likely to receive a big suspension after his latest poor decision off the court, James Harden could certainly serve as their top scorer until Morant returns, and the duo together would offer a formidable offensive twosome in the 2024 postseason.

New York Knicks

While the New York Knicks don’t have the cap space to sign James Harden, a sign-and-trade is a possibility. New York is a squad on the rise, but they need more scoring punch. It is not out of the question for them to see Harden as a key addition as part of an All-Star-level big three with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.

  • James Harden stats (’22-’23): 21.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 10.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 39% 3PT

The only issue would be how good a fit Harden is for Tom Thibodeau’s defensive scheme, and does Jalen Brunson having the ball less hurt his game? Since he was able to play with a ball-dominant superstar in Luka Doncic, a combo with James Harden could work.

Philadelphia 76ers

james harden
Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, the 76ers still remain the best option for James Harden. They can offer good money, he has a familiarity with the roster, and if they hire a coach more to his liking — perhaps Mike D’Antoni — that might make Philly the only choice when it comes to money and competitiveness for next season.

Brooklyn Nets

If James Harden is willing to return to the Houston Rockets, why not take a hard look at the Brooklyn Nets? While he asked for his exit from the team a season ago, it was more a dissatisfaction with the teammates he had at the time than overall unhappiness playing in Brooklyn.

With Mikal Bridges developing into a budding All-Star in Brooklyn after being traded from the Phoenix Suns, there certainly is competitive upside in the Nets. Plus, they are likely to let him play how he wants to maximize the last bit of his prime and the contract they give him.