TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 28: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles against Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images
The Toronto Raptors have the misfortune of being placed in the Atlantic Division, meaning they must go through a complete gauntlet of championship contenders if they want to add a division title to their list of accolades. The Philadelphia 76ers, led by Joel Embiid and James Harden, rank among those quality opponents.
While the presence of Harden gives Philly an All-Star point guard capable of piling up a triple-double on any given night, there are some legitimate doubts about the 76ers’ capacity to retain him on a long-term contract. This could make him a very desirable free agent.
Getting him out of the Atlantic would be a godsend for the Raptors, and it sounds like one of his old teams is very interested in making that happen. The Houston Rockets have been the laughingstock of the league for the last few years, but they could reverse their fortunes by signing Harden. Tim MacMahon thinks it could happen.
Houston believes it is a legitimate possibility and that’s not coming out of thin air,” MacMahon said via The Hoop Collective podcast. “James Harden still spends a lot of time in Houston. Spends his summers in Houston. Works out at the Rockets’ facility on a regular basis. It’s a very real possibility. And Harden, by the way, never shot it down.”
For @KellyIko, there's a 70% chance that James Harden will be on the Houston Rockets opening day roster next season 👀
"Don't call me crazy, but might be seeing something different." pic.twitter.com/GdZW6utSbh
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) February 21, 2023
Harden is averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 10.7 assists per game in a year that many argued should have warranted an All-Star nod. Taking him out of the equation, even with the development of Tyrese Maxey, would have teams like Toronto jumping for joy.
For the Raptors in particular, Harden has been a major thorn in their side. In his career, Harden has averaged 25.3 points and 7.7 assists per game against Toronto. His performance in the team’s 2021-22 playoff series was one of the main reasons that an up-and-coming Toronto team was pushed aside so easily.
While the 76ers would free up enough cap space to lure another disgruntled star to town if Harden leaves, the weak free agent market that Harden would dominate doesn’t offer a ton of ready-made solutions. With their draft pick reserves depleted after acquiring Harden from the Nets, things could get very uneasy in Philly.
While Joel Embiid is simply too talented to let the 76ers completely fall off without Harden, Philly’s ability to compete for a championship could be severely limited. The Raptors, who have their own free agent worries, need all the help they can get when it comes to slipping a ring on their finger, and getting Harden away from them would be immensely impactful.