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Whatever happens in NBA Draft Lottery, expect Rockets to make run at Harden

According to reports, James Harden will decline his $35.6 million player option and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but Michael Holley and Vinnie Goodwill share why NBA general managers should be wary.

The Houston Rockets have a 14% chance Tuesday night of lucking into the top pick in the June NBA Draft, giving them the rights to draft projected franchise cornerstone Victor Wembanyama. Houston has a 52.1% chance of landing in the top four and getting an elite talent such as Scoot Henderson.

None of that will change their offseason plans of bringing in veterans to start winning more now — including going after James Harden.

Harden returning to the Rockets buzz has swirled around the NBA all season, and league sources confirmed to NBC Sports this isn’t simply a smokescreen, the interest is genuine and mutual. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Monday on Get Up that the Rockets will target Harden no matter what happens in the draft lottery.

“Houston may be his way to get him the kind of guaranteed money, long-term money he wants from Philly. But I wouldn’t underestimate it as just a leverage play. I think he’s very serious about returning. And Philadelphia now has strong relationships in that organization from Daryl Morey, starting with him in their front office. It’s going to be a really interesting couple of months.”

Harden has a $35.6 million player option for this season, which he is expected to turn down in search of a long-term deal and some security for the 33-year-old former MVP. Many factors will impact Harden’s decision, from his family in Houston to who will be the coach of the 76ers next season.

What will not impact Harden or the Rockets much is what happens Tuesday night. For both sides, the next move is not about what rookie is playing in Houston.