The 76ers’ media day arrived Monday, and James Harden did not.
Harden picked up his $35.6 million player option for this season in June. He did so with the expectation that Daryl Morey, the Sixers’ president of basketball operations, would trade him this summer.
But the Sixers suspended trade talks for him in August, leading to the disgruntled point guard calling Morey “a liar.” Harden also vowed to never be part of an organization that includes Morey. This was followed by a report that Harden didn’t plan to attend training camp. And Harden’s disdain for his former longtime friend hasn’t gone away.
Last week, Harden had a sign at a party that read, “Daryl Morey is a liar.”
The Sixers were unsure if Harden would attend media day or the ensuing training camp that begins Tuesday at Colorado State University. They have plans in place for whether he attends or doesn’t attend. They also have plans for whether he attends and becomes a distraction.
Since Harden is in the final year of his deal — and cannot negotiate an extension — he could be penalized if he refuses to report to training camp.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, any player who “withholds playing services for more than 30 days after the start of the last season covered by his contract” could be deemed to have violated his contract and forbidden from entering free agency and signing with another team until the team he last played for “expressly agrees otherwise.”
Harden and Morey, a history
Harden and Morey have a relationship dating back to their time together with the Houston Rockets. As the Rockets general manager, Morey acquired Harden via a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in October 2012.
Harden blossomed into a three-time scoring champion and 2018 league MVP during his nine seasons in Houston. In addition to signing him to lucrative contracts, Morey proclaimed that Harden was a better scorer than Michael Jordan.
League sources, however, said Harden was upset with Morey for not negotiating a contract with him before this summer’s free agency period. Without options, Harden opted into his deal in June with the hope of being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
This led to Harden’s no longer having a relationship with Morey. And he was fined $100,000 by the NBA for calling Morey a liar in August.
According to sources, acquiring Harden was part of the reason Morey was named team president in November 2020. Former Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin wanted to bring Harden to the Sixers to form a dominant duo with Joel Embiid.
Morey attempted to reunite with Harden during the 2020-21 season, offering Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle as part of a trade package. However, the Rockets eventually traded him to the Brooklyn Nets, where he was part of a Big Three with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The Sixers acquired Harden from the Nets for a package that included Simmons in February 2022.
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