Would James Harden propel the Rockets back to the playoffs?

James Harden, Houston Rockets (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
James Harden, Houston Rockets (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden is having another great season, but his time in Philly may soon come to an end. Rumors have persisted that Harden may opt to return to the Houston Rockets this summer, despite how he left town and the team’s current state.

Harden forced the Rockets to trade him three seasons ago, then forced his way off the Brooklyn Nets, but now appears interested in returning to the team where he became a star.

While surprising enough, it is all the more so because the Rockets have been a tire fire since he was traded and they currently have the worst record in the NBA this season. If Harden does return to Houston, he certainly wouldn’t be accused of chasing rings or taking the easy way out.

Why does Harden want to rejoin the Rockets?

Harden built the bulk of his Hall of Fame career in Houston, but demanding a trade negatively affected his legacy with his former team. With most of his career in the rearview, how he is remembered in Houston might matter more to him than anywhere else. After all, he only played three seasons in Oklahoma City, a season in Brooklyn, and two seasons in Philadelphia, while he played eight and a half in Houston.

Returning would be a way to repair that legacy. Or maybe he misses being the face of the franchise. Either way, his potential return to the Rockets could dramatically affect the team. Even with Harden added to the Rockets’ roster, most would assume that Houston probably wouldn’t make the playoffs next season.

This is considering how bad they are, how balanced the West is, and how Harden isn’t the same elite offensive player that he was in his prior stint with the team. That’s probably true, though Jalen Green, Jabari Smith, and promising center Alperin Sengun could all take big steps forward next season, dramatically increasing the team’s talent level even without Harden.

Could Harden help the Rockets make the playoffs?

There’s a lot of young talent on the Rockets’ roster, but they are less than the sum of their parts. Harden probably isn’t going to be the veteran who whips this team into shape, but he could still certainly help boost their 30th-ranked offense by at least 10 spots with his scoring and playmaking.

That alone could be good enough for a dozen wins. Then, there’s the possibility of the Rockets selecting first or second in the upcoming NBA Draft. That could result in a Scoot Henderson, Green, Harden, Smith, and Sengun starting lineup. Or, better yet, a Kevin Porter Jr., Green, Harden, Smith, and Victor Wembanyama starting five.

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Either scenario could very well happen and be a potential game-changer for a team that’s been among the worst in the NBA in recent seasons. It could also be enough to help get them back to the postseason. However, things could always change. The 76ers could go on a run and win the title or get close enough to make Harden think twice about leaving. As a result, Rockets fans should be cautiously optimistic as they look forward to the offseason.