Sources - NBA launches inquiry into James Harden's situation - ESPN

UniqueThis 74 August 19, 2023
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James Harden's comments on Daryl Morey start epic Stephen A.-Mad Dog clash (2:54)

Stephen A. Smith returns to "First Take" for an epic debate with Chris "Mad Dog" Russo about James Harden's recent comments on 76ers executive Daryl Morey. (2:54)

Aug 19, 2023, 08:38 AM ET

The NBA has launched an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden's public admonishment of the franchise's president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, sources told ESPN.

The league office is believed to be pursuing an understanding of whether Harden was portending a 2023-24 holdout in violation of the league's collective bargaining agreement or had been referencing past contract discussions with the organization that might constitute salary cap circumvention, sources said.

Nevertheless, Harden has privately indicated that his public comments calling Morey a "liar" on Monday morning had only been a response to Morey ending trade discussions with an expectation that Harden would start the season with the Sixers, sources said.

Neither the Sixers nor Harden would be in violation of any league guidelines should that be communicated to league officials.

 Philadelphia informed Harden that it hadn't found a suitable trade with his preferred destination of the LA Clippers and that it expected him to report to the team's training camp in September --- something sources say Harden plans to do. Despite public speculation, Harden has made no allegations of a previous handshake agreement with the Sixers on a future contract.

At a publicity stop for his line of Adidas basketball shoes on Monday morning in China, Harden called Morey a "liar" and said he would "never be a part of an organization that he's a part of."

Harden, who turns 34 this month, exercised his $35.6 million option for the 2023-24 season in June with an expectation that Morey would work with him on finding a trade to the Clippers, sources said. The Sixers and Clippers engaged in numerous conversations but never gained traction on a deal, sources said.

Morey, leery of making a trade involving Harden that diminishes  Philadelphia's chances at contention next season, is faced with the dilemma of acquiescing to Harden's demand and keeping MVP center Joel Embiid part of a contending team next season. Morey is running the risk of an unhappy Harden creating something less than a championship-driven environment.

Morey has traded for Harden twice in his managerial career -- including the February 2022 deal with Brooklyn -- but that relationship has disintegrated over Harden's displeasure with his contractual situation.

Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million deal a year ago that included a player option -- a deal that allowed the franchise to sign two additional veteran contributors in free agency.

After those deals, the NBA investigated the Sixers and uncovered premature conversations with free agent signees P.J. Tucker and Danuel House -- which stripped the franchise of two future second-round picks. The league did not find evidence of  Philadelphia and Harden discussing or agreeing upon a future contract based upon his agreement of a one-plus-one contract.

The Sixers have continued to deny the suggestion that the organization ever agreed on an illegal future deal with Harden, or agreed on one and then reneged, sources said.

Harden -- a 10-time All-Star and the 2018 NBA MVP -- developed into an All-NBA guard with the Houston Rockets until requesting a trade in 2021. The Rockets moved him to the Nets, where expectations of a championship-level core including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving never developed. Harden pushed for a trade to the 76ers in February 2022 -- in part because of his strong professional and personal ties to Morey. Harden replied to a KHOU 11 television reporter in Houston on Thursday, "I think so," when asked whether his relationship with the Sixers was "beyond repair."

Said Harden: "I've been patient all summer. For me, it's just focus on what I can control and getting ready for this season."

Philadelphia lost in the Eastern Conference semifinal to the Boston Celtics, including subpar Game 6 and 7 performances out of Harden. He scored 45 points in Game 1 and 42 in Game 4, both Sixers victories, but missed all six of his 3-point attempts in Game 2 and Game 6 losses. Harden scored nine points in Game 7, including going scoreless in the second half.

Under Morey, the 76ers have dealt with a similar situation in recent years. Former No. 1 pick Ben Simmons demanded a trade after a falling-out with former coach Doc Rivers and members of the organization. Simmons created a level of disruption in 2021 preseason camp and never played for  Philadelphia again. Eventually, Simmons was traded to the Nets for Harden.