Talk within league circles about the possibility of James Harden returning to Houston has picked up recently. The Rockets are a “very real possibility” for Harden, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted.
The noise around Harden returning to Houston has been in the background dating back to the winter months. With Philadelphia getting blown out by Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Harden’s recent postgame comment on Rivers, that volume has risen.
When asked about his relationship with Rivers and whether he wants him to be back, Harden replied, “Our relationship is OK.” A lukewarm endorsement, if that, and certainly not a ringing one.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne implied that Harden may not want Rivers back if he re-signs in Philadelphia. “I think behind the scenes, I’m told that one person said it would be hard for me to see James wanting to come back and play for Doc again,” Shelburne said. “This is going to be a situation where those two decisions are linked.”
Several NBA executives and scouts deemed the Game 7 loss on the shoulders of MVP Joel Embiid and Harden for shooting a combined 8-for-29 from the field for 24 points. However, given the recent firing of Monty Williams in Phoenix and high expectations for Philadelphia, those same talent evaluators can plausibly see this being the end of the road for Rivers in Philadelphia.
If Harden does want to return to Philadelphia but with a new coach to replace Rivers, who are some potential candidates to watch?
Nick Nurse was a name that multiple executives believed “made sense” when considering potential replacements for Rivers due to his championship background and ties to Sixers executive Daryl Morey from their time together in Houston.
Quietly, there has been a belief for a while that Mike D’Antoni would be a coaching candidate for Philly if Rivers is relieved of his coaching duties while Harden was a Sixer. In Houston, D’Antoni built an offense around Harden that helped him become a three-time scoring champion in three straight seasons under Morey in Houston.
A couple mentioned Monty Williams, but they noted he’ll have other options that could be more appealing, citing Milwaukee as the top job available on the market, and there’s uncertainty about whether he’ll return to coaching immediately or take some time away.