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Report: James Harden might seek free-agency return to Rockets

Dec 23, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) drives past Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) in the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Former NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden forced his way out of Houston in a trade nearly two years ago but now is weighing a return to the Rockets in free agency if he chooses against staying with the Philadelphia 76ers, ESPN reported Sunday.

The veteran guard signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Sixers that would allow him to opt out before next season and become a free agent.

Whether the rebuilding Rockets are interested in Harden, 33, remains to be seen, though ESPN said the team would have the necessary salary-cap space.

The 76ers have won seven straight entering Sunday’s game against the New York Knicks, and Harden and star center Joel Embiid have become a potent one-two punch. ESPN said whether Philadelphia makes a strong postseason run or fails to deliver could dictate Harden’s next step.

Even though he wanted to leave Houston from a basketball standpoint, ESPN said Harden favors the Houston lifestyle and has family there and, as he gets older, might put community over desire to compete for a title right away.

Harden began his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who selected him No. 3 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. He was the centerpiece of an Oct. 27, 2012, trade that sent him to Houston.

He spent eight-plus seasons with the Rockets, leading them to the playoffs each year, twice advancing to — and losing — the Western Conference final. He won three straight NBA scoring titles and the MVP in 2018, but he grew disenchanted, and the Rockets traded him to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a blockbuster, four-team trade on Jan. 13, 2021.

He never found meshed with fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant and was traded to the Sixers in February in a mega deal that saw Philadelphia part with Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks for Harden and Paul Millsap.

On the season, Harden is averaging 21.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 10.9 assists.

In 959 career games (745 starts), Harden has averaged 24.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists.

–Field Level Media