James Harden declines option and enters free agency

Philadelphia 76ers guard and former NBA MVP James Harden will test free agency for the second time in as many years.  (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Former NBA MVP James Harden landed a $35.6 million player option with the 76ers in anticipation of working with the team on a trade to Philadelphia, Reporting by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Harden, who turns 34 in August, averaged a league-high 21 points with 10.7 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Sixers last season, making his 10th straight All-Star appearance. . A strained tendon in his right foot and pain in his left Achilles tendon cost him 24 games during the regular season and an eventual All-NBA appearance – a growing trend in his career. Soft tissue injuries also sidelined Harden in his previous two seasons, and he hasn’t made the All-NBA roster since joining the Houston Rockets in 2020.

The playoffs haven’t been kinder to Harden. In his only playoff appearance for the Brooklyn Nets, a strained right hamstring severely limited him in a 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, and he cited a hamstring -strained left leg for his poor performance in Philadelphia’s second-round loss to the Miami Heat. one year later. There was no excuse but age for this year’s effort on four Conference Finals losses to the Boston Celtics (12.5 points per game on 21.8 percent shooting from the field and 12.5 % from depth).

Reports that Harden has seriously considered a return to the Rockets, who have won no more than 22 games in the past three seasons, only bolster his reputation as a player whose own regular-season stats have a personal precedent on his team’s league goals. Why Houston would welcome him to his maximum space in a rebuild built around top five picks Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Amen Thompson is also a mystery — and one that looks less and less likely to end in a meeting.

Harden has played for three different teams since January 2021. He’s torched superstar partnerships with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving over the past seven years, all because his preferred style of play l requires holding the ball for entire possessions. Leaving Philadelphia would mean adding Joel Embiid, the league’s reigning MVP, to its list of former teammates.

Doc Rivers called Harden’s training last season “difficult” in a recent podcast by Bill Simmons.

“We were struggling with two things,” said Rivers, who cited Harden’s age as the main reason for his penchant for stalling on offense. “James is so good at playing in one way, and the way I think you have to play to win, in some ways, is different, because you have to give up the ball a lot, move the ball, get back on the ball.”

The Sixers fired Rivers and replaced him with former Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, a hire that “intrigued” Harden, according to league insider Marc Stein. The chatter that had Harden considering a reunion in Houston as early as Christmas last season has swung the other way so much that it would be surprising to see Harden leave Philadelphia. The Rockets have pivoted to target 29-year-old free agent Fred VanVleet as an alternative to handle their rebuild, and he makes more sense in an even-handed offense.

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