On Christmas Day, an odd report came out from Adrian Wojnarowski that suggested James Harden will opt out of his player option this offseason to return to the Houston Rockets. It was weird for so many reasons. Who was wondering if Harden would go back to Houston? What's the point of leaking that information on Christmas, a full six months before free agency even begins? And why, oh why would Harden ditch the championship-contending Philadelphia 76ers to go play with one of the league's worst teams?

Nothing about it made any sense at the time and even Harden, the one party in the situation who could gain leverage through the report, seemed pretty pissed off about it when asked on Christmas. A few months later, we're back! Kelly Iko, The Athletic's beat writer for the Rockets, penned a lengthy piece connecting the two parties yet again titled "James Harden, the Houston Rockets and an undeniable bond that refuses to go away." It contains quotes like these:

But Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, whose unabashed love of all things Harden was no secret during their three and a half years contending for titles together, had a message to share with his soon-to-be former franchise centerpiece on his way out the door.

“You’re always welcome back here,” he told him in so many words during a goodbye phone call between the two.

Harden, sources with knowledge of the situation say, made it abundantly clear the feeling was mutual. There were no promises made that day — on either side — but everyone who was part of those final Harden days in Houston knew there were strong indications he’d be back, specifically, in the summer of 2023.

Fast forward to the present day, and the whispers about a Harden-Rockets reunion are louder than ever. Never mind that this Harden-Joel Embiid iteration of the Sixers looks as capable as ever of winning the whole thing, or that the Rockets are in the midst of the worst three-season stretch in franchise history.