James Harden free agency rumors: Return to 76ers 'would be hard' if Doc Rivers remains coach next season
James Harden's 2022-23 season in Philadelphia didn't end like he wanted it to as the 76ers suffered a second-round loss to the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics.
The question now is whether Harden will exercise the player option on his two-year, $68.6 million contract and enter free agency, or come back for another year with Joel Embiid and Co. The former missed out on becoming an NBA All-Star for the first time since the 2011-12 season, averaging 21 points, 6.1 rebounds and a league-leading 10.7 assists per game as Philadelphia earned the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Harden and the 76ers' season ended in an ugly 112-88 Game 7 loss to Boston on Sunday, and now reports have surfaced that his return to Philadelphia in 2023-24 could be predicated on whether Doc Rivers returns as coach.
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Based on what one source told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, "it would be hard ... to see James wanting to come back and play for Doc again" next year,
According to @ramonashelburne James Harden coming back to the Sixers would depend on Doc Rivers as coach.— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) May 15, 2023
“Behind the scenes, from what I’m told, one person said to me it would be hard for me to see James wanting to come back and play for Doc again.” pic.twitter.com/RRTcwOcJLT
"That decision, from what I understand from talking to people around the Celtics, also now becomes tied to the decision about Doc Rivers," Shelburne said on NBA on ESPN. "Because James Harden was not all that supportive of Doc Rivers in his press conference yesterday.
"I think behind the scenes, from what I'm told, it would be hard for me to see James wanting to come back and play for Doc again. This is going to be a situation where those two decisions are linked."
Indeed, Harden was noncommittal when asked Sunday about what he wants next year, saying, “I just want to have a chance to compete." When asked about his relationship with Rivers — and whether he wants him back next year — Harden said, "Our relationship is OK."
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That's not exactly a ringing endorsement from the former NBA MVP, though he certainly did no favors to Rivers or the 76ers on Sunday, scoring nine points on 3-of-11 shooting while committing five turnovers. In eight fourth-quarter minutes played in Sunday's Game 7, Harden took just one shot and had an assist.
His poor performance wasn't limited to Game 7, either: He had zero points in 32 combined fourth-quarter minutes in the final three games of the Eastern Conference semifinals. That helped contribute to Rivers' career 6-10 record in Game 7s. The Philadelphia coach, asked whether he thought he would return in 2023-24, had this to say:
"No one is safe in our business."— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) May 14, 2023
- Doc Rivers was asked if he believes he will be back coaching in Philly next season 👀 pic.twitter.com/tndaxqDotT
If the 76ers intend to prioritize bringing back Embiid and Harden, then Rivers' potential return next season could be in even greater danger.