Nobody wants this to be in the press now, but it's clearly real. Not sure it would actually be a bad thing (versus the Sixers overpaying for a declining player and having one last chance to reconfigure with a ton of cap space).
“You’re always welcome back here,” [Fertitta] told [Harden] in so many words during a goodbye phone call between the two.
But more than two years later, with Harden focused on his championship pursuits with the Philadelphia 76ers these days and the speculation over what he’ll do in free agency already in full swing, the more important part about that final Rockets conversation was what came next. Harden, sources with knowledge of the situation say, made it abundantly clear the feeling was mutual. There were no promises made that day — on either side — but everyone who was part of those final Harden days in Houston knew there were strong indications he’d be back, specifically, in the summer of 2023.
Fast forward to the present day, and the whispers about a Harden-Rockets reunion are louder than ever. Never mind that this Harden-Joel Embiid iteration of the Sixers looks as capable as ever of winning the whole thing, or that the Rockets are in the midst of the worst three-season stretch in franchise history.
This possibility, which was born out of those parting talks and first reported by ESPN in late December, is as strong now as ever. Sources, who like all of the other sources in this story were granted anonymity so that they could speak freely, have told The Athletic Houston is widely expected to pursue the 13-year veteran point guard if, as is expected, he declines his player option for the 2023-24 season. And even more surprisingly, sources with knowledge of Harden’s outlook say he’s as serious about a possible return now as he was when he left town.