Introductory press conferences are typically a time for celebration and positive outlooks for the future. But new 76ers head coach Nick Nurse found himself in a slightly awkward situation on Thursday when he was asked point-blank what outcome he was hoping for in the James Harden situation.
Harden, who helped lead Philadelphia to the second round of the playoffs in a postseason performance that featured several high and low moments, has a $35.6 million player option for next season. With rumors swirling that Harden will decline the option and elect free agency—possibly to return to the Rockets—Nurse was asked by a reporter whether or not he wanted Harden to stay in Philadelphia.
His answer wasn’t exactly a definitive one, at least initially.
"James has a decision to make and I would be very happy if he came back."— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) June 1, 2023
Nick Nurse on Harden's future. 👀 pic.twitter.com/Gq7LFAZyPJ
Nurse also had plenty of praise for the former league MVP, and said that he would do his best to sell Harden on the Sixers’ championship potential to get him to remain in Philadelphia.
“Winning has to be the sell, right?” Nurse said, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “Can we be good enough to win it all? That’s got to be a goal of his. And if it is, then he should stay here and play for us, because I think there’s a possibility of that.”
Harden had several clutch moments during the postseason, including a 45-point outburst in Game 1 of the Sixers’ series against the Celtics, but was unable to get the team past the second round. His struggles were particularly notable in Game 7, when he shot 3-for-11 from the field and finished with nine points in 40 minutes.
Nurse emphasized the importance of getting over the playoff hump with his new team, which has not gotten past the second round since 2001.
“You guys have mentioned the second round to me twice already, and we’re gonna hit that head on,” Nurse said. “Like we know we’re gonna we’re judged on how we play in the playoff. It was the same in Toronto; we hadn’t played that well, and certain players hadn’t played that well and all those kinds of things. So the reality is, that’s, that’s the truth. So, I would imagine from Day 1, we’re going to talk about that and that we’re going to try to attack that, you know. We’re gonna have to face it, and we’re gonna have to rise above it.”