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Report: Wherever Harden lands, he wants short-term contracts going forward

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 27: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during the game against the Washington Wizards on December 27, 2022 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Reports leaked last week that James Harden was open to a return to Houston and the feeling might be mutual. Daryl Morey chased Harden for years to get him to Philadelphia, the team is winning and they will not want to let him go. You can be sure there would also be interest from other teams if Harden wants to test the market.

Wherever he lands, expect a short-term deal, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his latest podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“There are a lot of whispers around the league that he wants to continue cycling through one-plus-one kind of deals,” said Zach Lowe.

Meaning, he wants more deals like the one he got last summer in Philadelphia, a two-year, $68.6 million contract with a player option for the second season (2023-24). However, he may want a raise from that discounted salary (he took a $14 million hit to help the 76ers bring in P.J. Tucker and Danuel House).

The question becomes: What does Harden want?

If the primary goal is to fill in the missing piece of his resume and win a ring, short-term deals make a lot of sense — it gives him flexibility and keeps pressure on the organization to put a winner out there (although jumping contender to contender could limit how much money he makes, those teams tend not to have max cap space to spend).

If the primary goal is playing in a place he is comfortable and revered in the organization and city — Houston, specifically — then he should take the security of a longer-term deal. Why jump to a nice young Houston team but not one that will be a contender next season, only to jump again a year later?

How Harden plays the rest of this season and how far the 76ers go in the playoffs also will impact these discussions. The buzz is starting early with Harden because he may be the best player available as a free agent next summer.