The NBA offseason began with rumors that James Harden would return to the Houston Rockets this summer, becoming one of the highest-paid NBA players and helping the Rockets turn things around. Now, things could be headed in a different direction.
After Harden declined his $35.6 million player option, becoming one of the top NBA free agents, early speculation around the league suggested he would return to Houston. With the Philadelphia 76ers unwilling to offer him a max contract and the Rockets ready to build around him, it opened the door to a busy summer in the NBA with league-changing moves.
- James Harden stats (2022-’23): 21 PPG, 10.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 44.1% FG, .188 WS/48
Holding the fourth overall pick, Houston had the trade assets to acquire another superstar to pair alongside Harden. It increased the Rockets’ odds of landing the All-Star guard, especially if they could acquire Karl-Anthony Towns.
Now, according to Jeremy Woo of ESPN, teams around the league believe the Rockets’ interest in signing Harden is “increasingly uncertain” and it’s now viewed as a legitimate possibility that he might not be back in Houston.
Furthermore, per Woo, the Rockets are considering top NBA Draft prospects Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore with the No. 4 pick.
Thompson, a 6-foot-7 guard who spent last season with the G-League’s Overtime Athlete, could serve as a lead guard in Houston. Thompson is hyperathletic, offering unmatched movement ability on the open court and he’s an excellent playmaker.
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Whitmore, a 6-foot-7 wing from Villanova, could serve as a nice complementary player alongside Jalen Green. Like Thompson, he’s an outstanding athlete who offers positional versatility and moves fluidly for his size. He’s most often drawn comparisons to Miles Bridges.
For now, the Rockets still appear to be open to signing Harden and trading the fourth overall pick for a star to help the franchise win now. However, it’s clear the situation is fluid and Houston could easily pivot to making long-term moves with an eye on building around its young core.