Update Aug. 22: The NBA announced it would fine Harden $100,000 for indicating that he would not perform the services called for under his player contract unless traded to another team. Since Harden referred to Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey as a liar and essentially threatened to sit out by proclaiming he would never be a part of an organization that employs Morey, the NBA took action due to a new bylaw in the latest CBA. Under the new CBA, “the maximum player fine may be imposed for (1) conduct or statements prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball, the NBA, or a team, or (2) violations of the tampering rules, will be $100,000.” To Harden, who is due to earn $35.6 million this season, the penalty is a mosquito bite to his bank account. The fine is likely offset by the windfall he experienced in 10 seconds on a Chinese influencer’s livestream.
Turns out James Harden’s got ice in his veins after all.
From 7,000 miles away, the 10-time All-Star spoke to a gym full of onlookers during his Adidas tour of China and delivered a step-back dagger directed at team president Daryl Morey. A day after Philadelphia 76ers insiders informed Adrian Wojnarowski that the team no longer intended to trade Harden, the Sixers cranky superstar took an ax to his previously chummy rapport with the team’s president.
“Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of,” Harden told a packed gym and in case we didn’t hear him, he repeated himself a second time.
“Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.”
It was such an audacious moment to see Harden disparage the exec who has shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to him since 2012, and pulled him from the Brooklyn Nets’ burning wreckage at his request two years ago, that I had to make sure this wasn’t AI-generated misinformation being spread. If you’re Philly (or Oklahoma City or Brooklyn or Houston), you have to wonder why Harden only demonstrates this Jordan-caliber, cutthroat resolve against his own front offices instead of in legacy-defining playoff moments.
Harden sized up Morey like he was a defender, swung him around with a crossover and stunned the Sixers with a throwback signature move. Harden shivving contenders happened thrice before. From Oklahoma City to Houston to Brooklyn and now Philly, this is the final part of the James Harden Hustling Backwards Trilogy.
Harden’s history continues to repeat itself
Say what you want about Harden, but nobody nukes a contender like he does. However, his bickering within the organization that employs him has become standard operating procedure for the future Hall of Famer. But this was more personal than ever. Calling out Morey in China, where he’s already maligned for his “Stand with Hong Kong” tweet in 2019, is cold-blooded. Especially because Harden’s popularity in China is due, in part, to Morey’s intervening in his career over a decade ago and elevating him from Thunder sixth man to a heliocentric star in the House that Yao Built.
Harden bet on himself last offseason when he signed a two-year contract, with a one-year opt-out escape hatch, and then dropped the ball in the second half of the season. Harden gave the company line that this was about winning a championship, but nobody is buying that anymore. The irony is that Morey is the one trying to keep them together.
In July, Harden said he had learned that the league is a business, telling USA Today Sports,
“I see both sides of it. I see both sides because I went through it. The organization wanna do what’s best for them. They don’t want to just give a player that basically is one of the best players that they’ve ever had in their organization away for nothing,” he said, adding, “And then I get the player’s side as far as wanting to play and wanting to be somewhere. Whether it’s because it’s the right situation for you, for your family, or yourself, or whatever that person is going through. So if they can meet in the middle and kind of come to an agreement and figure it out, then that’s like the best scenario. I wouldn’t want an organization to send someone somewhere where they wouldn’t [want to] be.”
Since then, he’s changed his tune. Harden’s made his career from the charity stripe, making more free throws than field goals throughout his illustrious career. Unfortunately, this league isn’t about charity and while Harden believes that a long-term max contract is owed to him, most of the league clearly disagrees. As our Sean Beckwith pointed out after Harden surprisingly opted back in, he’s never been accountable for his litany of shortcomings as a professional or his postseason shrinkage.
For delusional reasons, Harden thought after last season’s concerning sample size that there was a wink-wink agreement in place for Morey to buy more of the same diminishing product. The NBA’s trade-happy 29-team market saw Harden on the block this summer and decided to pass on the offer. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, at nearly 35, was traded for a large enough haul of players and picks to launch a Seattle or Vegas expansion team. Morey would have gladly given Harden a slight bump in salary, but given what modern max numbers look like, it would have been business malpractice to commit four years and $210 million to Harden at age 34 going on 42.
This isn’t just about the money for Harden, though. What he originally sought after opting in was a trade to Los Angeles, which only the Sixers could facilitate due to restraints on the Clippers’ ability to acquire talent as a repeat luxury-tax offender. Harden used player empowerment and pre-agency to take advantage of the Sixers, but Morey countered. Now they’re stuck in an ugly stalemate.
At this point in his career, Harden moves like he’s little orphan Annie. His salary is only a meager $35 million. Granted it, doesn’t come with long-term security, but if Morey wasn’t going to supply him with a final golden parachute for his declining skills last summer, what made him think he was receiving one now?
When they produce the HBO mockumentary on the Sixers’ demise, this is the moment where the avalanche finally buries Philadelphia. Given Harden’s track record, there’s nothing positive on the horizon. Like Harden’s postseasons, you can bet this is going to end badly.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex