A James Harden-Houston Rockets reunion is a mistake for all sides

James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers - Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers - Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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There’s one thing that NBA fans love more than the “ringz” debate: the offseason. With all of the moves, trades, and switches, one of the more popular fan trade archetypes is a reunion. These include two players reuniting to ball together again, a star going back to play for an old coach, and a player returning to a team. That’s the most recent rumor that’s started to swirl around James Harden.

A recent ESPN report gave a hard number on the chance that Harden, who is currently playing for the contending Philadelphia 76ers, could look at returning to the Houston Rockets this offseason. This report sent shock waves through the NBA, as not only would a move back to the Rockets change the trajectory of both Houston and Philadelphia, but it would shake the title race.

The last time Harden played for the Rockets, he had a move to a contender on his mind. He lazed through the early season before he was sent to Brooklyn to play with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the super team that never really was. After the Nets flamed out, Harden made his way to a reunion of a different sort, playing with various former Rockets under GM Daryl Morey.

Despite the success of the 76ers this season, the rumors about Harden’s departure are already running rampant. But there are several reasons why round two of Harden in Houston would be bad for both player and team.

How has James Harden played this season?

It’s natural to think about Harden as an MVP-caliber player, especially when Houston is mentioned with him. It’s been a few years since the peak of his powers, however, and the version of James Harden that exists now is quite different than when he played for the Rockets.

That’s not to say he’s a bad player now; far from it. He was one of the most cited All-Star snubs this year, given he’s contributed well in the stats sheet and the wins column. Harden leads the league in assists this year, ranks second on the team in scoring, and has molded his game to be a perfect co-star with Joel Embiid. Their chemistry has carried Philadelphia all the way to the 3rd seed in the east.

While he always had the ball in his hands, Harden has become more of a point guard this year than the heliocentric combo guard in his Houston heyday. The 2022-2023 version of him is an adventure in opposites: while he’s in the midst of his 4th lowest-scoring season, it’s his 3rd highest in assists. Although he’s averaging the 4th lowest amount of turnovers per game, he’s also doing so on the 4th lowest usage rate of his career.

Harden’s transformed himself as he’s aged to not be the scoring star anymore but to be the second banana on the 76ers. That’s resulted in some of the crispiest passes of his career finding players off of screens and cuts:


That’s not to say that Harden’s become a slouch as a scorer either. Instead, with such a dominant talent on his team like Embiid, Harden has refined his shot diet into a more efficient menu. He’s taking his lowest amount of threes in seven seasons, yet is shooting his best three-point percentage of his career. He’s delivered bombs off of the catch, off of the bounce, and when the 76ers have needed a skilled shot-maker most:



As he enters the twilight of his prime, Harden has masterfully switched how he plays to fit into the hierarchy of the 76ers. He’s transitioned to the pure point guard that the team needs to organize their offense, taken a significant but not massive step back in scoring, and relied more on the perimeter than at the free throw line as he did at his peak.