The Houston Rockets are expected to pursue James Harden if he declines his player option for the 23-24 season with the Philadelphia 76ers, which is considered very likely.

Sources tell Kelly Iko and Sam Amick of The Athletic that Harden is as serious about a possible return to the Rockets as he was when he first left the franchise.

When the Rockets traded Harden, Tilman Fertitta told him he would always be welcome back to the team. Harden made it clear the feeling was mutual and there were strong indications he could be back in the summer of 2023. There were no promises made that day from either side even if the possibility was tangible.

Sources say his relationship with Tilman Fertitta and his son, Patrick Fertitta, remains strong. Harden spent a considerable amount of time working out with the Rockets' young players during the offseason. Sources say the Rockets are confident they'll at least land a meeting with Harden.

A high-ranking Sixers source with knowledge of the team's operation tells The Athletic they are "unconcerned" about possibly losing Harden this offseason considering they can offer him a chance to contend for a title and also maximize his earning potential. 

The Sixers can offer up to $272 million over five years compared to four-year, $201 million offers for rival teams with max cap space.

“Everything in this league is leverage,” one source close to Harden said. “But that doesn’t mean he won’t go to Houston.”