The Philadelphia 76ers hired coach Doc Rivers in 2020 to help push them over the top and reach the Eastern Conference Finals then acquired James Harden nearly two years later to strengthen the push. Coming off another second-round exit in the NBA playoffs, Rivers is gone and the 76ers will be spending the summer trying to convince Harden to stay.
Harden holds a $35.65 million player option for the 2023-’24 season, which he received when he signed a team-friendly deal with the 76ers last summer. During the 76ers’ season, reports surfaced that Harden was eyeing NBA free agency with a return to the Houston Rockets on the table.
Related: James Harden declining player option, wants huge contract
With Harden set to decline his player option, becoming one of the top NBA free agents in 2023 and Philadelphia’s contention window beginning to close, it appears the organization made its first big move of the offseason with Harden in mind.
According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, multiple members of 76ers’ coaching staff expressed a feeling that Harden was the “driving force” behind Rivers being fired.
Even with plans to test the open market and potentially leave Philadelphia less than two years after he demanded a trade there, the report would indicate the level of influence Harden has with the 76ers’ organization.
The 10-time NBA All-Star selection has a close relationship with the president of basketball operations Daryl Morey. It could also have an influence on the 76ers’ coaching search, with Mike D’Antoni emerging as a candidate for Philadelphia. Harden also has a strong relationship with D’Antoni, citing it in 2021 as part of the reason he wanted to play for the Brooklyn Nets.
Related: NBA insider links Mike D’Antoni to Philadelphia 76ers
- James Harden stats (2022-’23): 21 PPG, 10.7 APG, 6.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 44.1% FG
Turning 34 in August, Harden is expected to pursue a multi-year deal that will likely be the last big contract in his NBA career. While NBA teams are monitoring the situation in Philadelphia to see if a Harden departure results in Joel Embiid requesting a trade, there remains a strong likelihood that Harden re-signs with the 76ers.
Related: James Harden reportedly didn’t want to play for Doc Rivers anymore