For the third-straight year, James Harden is looking for a new home. Following a disappointing postseason run, where Harden and Joel Embiid looked toothless in an embarrassing Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the second round, the Beard has requested a trade.
It’s fascinating that Harden is willing to jump ship so often, especially when he needs to shoulder a large share of the blame for the fact that the Sixers didn’t make the Eastern Conference Finals. He’s also not been at 100% for long stretches of the last few years, dating back to when he had a hamstring injury that severely limited him in the 2021 postseason while still a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
The two likeliest destinations for Harden are a return to the Houston Rockets, or a potential trade to the LA Clippers, who would be hoping that a superteam of Harden, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard would move the needle for them in the Western Conference.
Neither side provides him with the same chance to compete as the Sixers. The Rockets are a talented but young and rebuilding team, which would take Harden out of title contention right away. The Clippers, on the other hand, have faced one injury after another with their two superstars. In 2022 alone, George did not make the postseason due to an injury suffered near the end of the season, while Leonard’s knee gave out after just a couple of games.
At this point, teams may have to consider Harden too much of a risk to gamble a max contract with. He certainly isn’t loyal, even to Daryl Morey, the guy who bet the house on him in Houston and made him a superstar. Harden’s also going to turn 34 in August, and his athleticism is starting to wane. He’s still able to single-handedly win a few games here and there, but it’s clear that he’s past his MVP days.
The 2023 free agency window just got spicier. Let’s see where Harden forces his way to next. With a restrictive CBA starting this season, which makes things even harder for luxury tax teams in 2024-25 onward, there may just be a team out there that will swing for the fences and try to squeeze out on last great season out of Harden.