The off-season was lacking drama, so James Harden, the Philadelphia 76ers’ ever-polarizing superstar, thought he’d provide a healthy dose.
While on his annual China tour this week, the 34-year-old went nuclear on Sixers GM Daryl Morey by calling him a “liar.” Such words and emotions signals that things have turned personal, and it’s unfortunate given the two have been close since their Houston Rockets tenure, where they spent eight seasons together.
Harden took less money from the Sixers in the 2022 offseason by inking a two-year, $64.6M deal (player option in year 2) because of two things – first is to help the team have more spending leeway in free agency, and second is it was on the grounds of getting a max contract extension in this offseason.
Things would’ve probably happened as such if not for Philly’s collapse in the 2023 playoffs. They lost in embarrassing fashion yet again by blowing a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics, which then got head coach Doc Rivers fired.
As part of the team’s star tandem, though, alongside league MVP Joel Embiid, Harden had his share of shortcomings. With the Sixers needing just one more win to advance to the conference finals, he averaged a measly 11 points per game on a combined 7-of-27 shooting (1/11 from three) and 10 turnovers in games 6 and 7, highlighted by the woeful 9-point performance in Game 7.
It then led to Morey and the front office allegedly going back on their word of offering a max contract:
“Harden reportedly feels the 76ers were “forcing” him to test the open market before offering a contract extension, which was expected to be handed to him after he signed a discounted deal with the team last summer.”
Other things may have happened behind the scenes, and whatever those might be, it brought us to the aforementioned scathing video.
It’s a long debate as to who’s really sketchier as both sides have something to fight for. Harden did sacrifice money because of a promise, and a word is a word, but Morey is the Sixers’ president and his job is to do what he thinks is best for the team, and with the way Harden played in the playoffs, he has all the right to be concerned about throwing out a max contract.
What happens now?
It can go every which way. Harden wants out, but the Sixers have no plans of trading him as of the moment, and he’s likely to sit out training camp and the season. The team may then do what they did with Ben Simmons in 2021, who’s coincidentally the player that they gave up for Harden, and withhold his checks.
Another option is a rule in the CBA that will further make things messier, so much so that it has never been used and it may end player empowerment.
Basically, if Harden holds out, he will not become a free agent and Philadelphia has the right to keep him from signing with any team. That will be rough and could provide a seismic shift throughout the league – it will either straighten guys out in terms of honouring their contracts or it will lead to a massive clash between players and owners.
So, why did Harden opt in if he doesn’t want to be in Philly?
That’s the standard question in this situation, but the simple answer is because Harden himself knows he’s not getting the price he wants had he opted out and waited for offers. Aside from already being 34 years old, he has also built a diva-esque reputation as he has asked to be traded thrice over the last three years. By opting to the $35.6 million player option this past July, he at least has guaranteed money for the 2023-24 season.
The potential Clippers trade
Harden has expressed his strong interest in joining the LA Clippers, where he’ll team up with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and former Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rocket teammate Russell Westrbook, which is strange given how they allegedly beefed during their lone year in Houston.
It appears that this deal is far away from getting done. The Sixers don’t want to trade Harden that easily, and the Clippers are not in a hurry as well since they are not exactly competing with anyone. With that, it’s hard to see anyone budging anytime soon.
Morey is also apparently unmoved by Harden’s blistering statement.