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ESPN’s Brian Windhorst thinks the James Harden to Houston rumors is a leverage play

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LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 27: Sportswriter Brian Windhorst attends a practice session at the 2018 USA Basketball Men's National Team minicamp at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on July 27, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 02: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers walks backcourt during the first half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on April 02, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Since the Celtics eliminated the Sixers in the second round of the playoffs, there’s been burgeoning speculation that James Harden wants to return to Houston. However, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst believes it’s all a ploy to get Philadelphia to offer him a lucrative contract.

While speaking on The Hoop Collective podcast, Windhorst was asked about Harden going back to the Rockets. The veteran pundit said that he suspects it’s all “one giant leverage play.” In fact, the former MVP isn’t hellbent on a max contract, either. He merely wants to elicit the most money from the Sixers that he can. Additionally, Windhorst said that this can be a “slow dance for months and these rumors are all sort of tied to that.”

Furthermore, he explained that Kyrie Irving is using a similar tactic in his negotiations with the Mavericks. Specifically, he is attending Lakers games — playing on the rumors that he and LeBron James will reunite.

“The two big names out on the [free agent] market this year are James Harden and Kyrie Irving,” Windhorst said. “Both of them, at $48 to $50-something million, seem like very bad bets. But, there is a scarcity [of star talent] there.

I also think that both of them, Kyrie showing up to Laker games, James Harden being rumored to be attached to the Rockets, I still think/suspect all of that is one giant leverage play. That, what James Harden really wants is to elicit the biggest offer out of the Sixers even if it isn’t a max [contract]. Whatever the number of money is, for as long as many years as he can get. And that this slow dance for months and these rumors are all sort of tied to that.

And I think that Kyrie could be doing the same exact thing [with the Mavericks]. Just doing all of this, and whatever he may do between now and free agency to try to get the juiciest offer he can from the team he’s on. Cause [the Sixers and Mavericks] face the most damage from losing those guys.”

This past season, Harden averaged 21.0 points, 10.7 assists, and 6.7 rebounds.