The gist of the James Harden vs. Daryl Morey and the Philadelphia 76ers case is this: Harden believes he was promised a long-term, big-money deal when he agreed to a lesser contract last summer to afford the Sixers the opportunity to round out their roster, namely by signing PJ Tucker. Harden did not get that deal.
Instead, he exercised his $35.6 million player option for this season with, in his eyes, a promise from Morey that he would be traded to the Clippers. Harden has not yet gotten that trade. It’s been reported that it was the Clippers, in fact, who initially pulled out of the talks. Morey wanted a reasonable return for Harden, which the Clippers deemed unreasonable for an aging star who once again went in the tank in the biggest playoff moments last season.
These trade talks are reportedly back on between Philadelphia and the Clippers, but for now, Harden is still a 76er. He’s in training camp. Hasn’t caused too much of a stir yet. He doesn’t appear to be out of shape. He’s working hard. But he still clearly wants out. On Friday, he spoke on the situation, taking no blame, as usual, for his part in what is now the third fallout he’s had with his last three teams.
“This is definitely a difficult time,” Harden said. “But for me, it’s just trusting the people that you’ve known over a decade. When I got traded [to Philadelphia], my whole thing was, I wanted to retire [as] a Sixer. … I wanted to be here and retire a Sixer. And the front office didn’t have that in their future plans.
“It’s literally out of my control,” Harden continued. “It’s something that I didn’t want to happen, being in this position. But I’ve got to make a decision for my family. This is a business. It’s just as simple as that. I come here today, and I work my butt off, and do the things necessary as a professional as I would do and as I’ve been doing for 15 years.”
Couple things here. First, when Harden says, “this is a business,” he’s right, and business works both ways. The Sixers are doing what’s right for their business, not what’s right for James Harden, who is not worth the money he thinks he is and, at present, is not valuable enough to command a trade package that Morey and the Sixers believe will keep them in contention.
Second, when Harden says, “it’s just trusting the people that you’ve known over a decade,” it’s a pretty thinly veiled shot at Morey, with whom he has indeed shared a long and mostly successful relationship. Harden is, seemingly, putting the onus on Morey to honor that relationship, and the apparent word that Morey gave Harden (which Morey denies), by doing right by Harden and giving him what he wants.
It begs the question: Has Harden always been a man of his word? When he absolutely quit on the Rockets, he was under contract to play in Houston. Last I checked, a contract is pretty synonymous with your word that you’re going to do your best to hold up your end of the deal. Harden only does that when the deal is in his best interest. As soon as he feels it isn’t, he bails. He did it in Houston. He did it in Brooklyn. Now he’s doing it in Philadelphia.
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But sure, he’s just the consummate professional being wronged by the big, bad businessman. Except, he just said it’s a business. Again, that works both ways. Harden doesn’t seem to grasp that. The simple truth is if he wanted out of Philadelphia, he didn’t have to sign that $35.6M player option. He could have become a free agent.
Problem is, of course, nobody was going to pay him what he thinks he’s worth on the open market, either. And the team he wants to go to, the Clippers, didn’t have the cap space to sign him anyway. So it had to be a trade. Harden is trying to squeeze a contract from the Sixers that the market has told him he’s not worth, and when the Sixers were smart enough not to give it to him, he went the trade-demand route because this is the only way he could get to the Clippers, who, in his eyes, could then give him the big, long-term deal he desires once they have his rights.
Sounds great for Harden, doesn’t it? No so much for the Sixers. Which is why, incidentally, he’s still with the Sixers. Which is apparently “out of his control” even though he literally signed a contract he didn’t have to sign to stay with the Sixers. And that about sums it up.