What James Harden decides to do this offseason will have a major impact on what the future of the Philadelphia 76ers looks like. The Sixers All-Star has until June 29 to decide if he is opting into or out of his $35.6 million player option for next season with the belief around the league being that he is going to become an unrestricted free agent.
At his introductory press conference on Thursday, newly appointed 76ers head coach Nick Nurse was asked about the possibility of Harden returning to Philadelphia this summer. His answer has definitely raised some eyebrows.
“James Harden is a great player,” Nurse said briefly when asked if he wants Harden back. The reporter asking the question then told Nurse that he did not answer him fully, to which the 76ers coach responded, “Well, I would say this is that James has a decision to make and I'd be very happy if he came back.”
What was surprising by Nurse's initial response to the question of wanting Harden to return to the 76ers was that he almost dodged it entirely. Harden and his pending free agency is a big topic of discussion in Philadelphia, but it almost appeared as if the Sixers and their coach wanted no part in answering anything about the former league MVP.
Returning to the 76ers this offseason should he opt out of his contract remains a likely scenario for Harden, but the ten-time All-Star has also been linked to his former team in the Houston Rockets. No matter who the head coach is or what the roster looks like around him, Harden will always be the second-best player alongside Joel Embiid, which could be one of the reasons why he is giving though to leaving.
In the event that Harden does depart Philadelphia, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will need to get creative with either salvaging value for Harden or flipping him in a deal for another All-Star quality player. Recently, sources informed ClutchPoints that Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has emerged as a potential replacement for Harden this offseason.
VanVleet holds a strong relationship with Nurse stemming from their time together with the Raptors and he will enter free agency as one of the best players available should he opt out of his $22.8 million player option.
Harden's future in Philadelphia remains a major question mark this offseason and Nurse's comments on Thursday reinforce the idea of the All-Star potentially leaving.