A league source told Heavy Sports that the Rockets' recent hiring of Udoka changed any potential plans to re-acquire Harden, who recently requested a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers.
“From everything we’ve gotten out of there, it was a matter that Ime didn’t want him,” the source told Heavy Sports. “At the beginning, were they thinking about Harden? Yeah. But then they hired Ime, and Ime said, ‘It’s not going to work here.'”
The Rockets instead filled their need at point guard by signing free agent Fred VanVleet to a three-year, $130 million deal last month. VanVleet, 29, is four years younger than Harden and also more willing to cut to the basket and pass, a skillset that excels in Udoka's offense.
“They wound up with a guy who fits better anyway,” the source told Heavy Sports. “VanVleet is going to be able to give them scoring they need, but he’s not going to dominate the ball the way Harden would, the way Harden does.
“People look at (Harden’s) assists (2022-23 NBA leader per game with 10.7) and say, ‘Oh, he gives it up.’ But those numbers have a lot to do with the fact the ball’s in his hands most of the time. He holds onto it until he can make a play, and, especially with a young team, you want to get people used to moving the ball — and moving without the ball. If you keep cutting like the coach wants you to and you hardly ever get the ball, you’re going to stop cutting.”
The Sixers picked up Harden's $35.6 million player option last month, however, he is expected to be traded at some point, sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Harden would join his third team since leaving the Houston Rockets in February 2021 if traded. The former MVP averaged 21.0 points, 10.7 assists and 6.1 rebounds during the 2022-23 season.