It’s hard to believe, but at 34 years old, James Harden is still a top-tier player, one of the driving forces behind the Philadelphia 76ers being one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
This summer brought a lot of controversy around the organization, because of Harden’s comments about GM Daryl Morey. He claimed that he would never play for a franchise led by Morey, called him a liar, and requested a trade in the offseason. The Clippers were the team favored to acquire the 2018 MVP, but talks fell through.
The reason Harden called Morey a liar was rumored to be because Harden opted into the final year of his $35.6 million deal, with Morey’s promise of trading him soon thereafter. Morey could have changed his mind, which is what supposedly garnered the accusations. For these comments, the NBA fined Harden $100,000.
Harden actually joined the team in Colorado for a practice prior to the preseason, but then skipped it entirely, which gives coach Nick Nurse an interesting dilemma. In his first season with Philly, he’ll be without his second option, and he’ll need to retool the roles of players on the roster.
Nurse came from a Toronto Raptors team that won the championship just a few years ago, and has achieved a lot of respect in his young head coaching career. But he quickly learned in less than five months with the Sixers that it isn’t always sunny in Philadelphia.
Nurse said that he was fully prepared to open the season without him in the lineup. “If he’s here, we go. If he’s not here, we go,” he said following a missed practice from Harden on Wednesday.
Insinuating that you’ll be fine without a future Hall-of-Famer averaging 21.0 points and 10.7 assists is a little strange, but then again, you wouldn’t expect Nurse to be open and plead Harden to return in interviews.
If Harden isn’t in the lineup on October 26 against the Bucks, then the starting five will likely be De’Anthony Melton in place of the ten-time All-Star, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, and Joel Embiid.
That’s not a bad group to work with. When you have the reigning MVP in Embiid, you can’t be counted out of a playoff spot. Of course, they fall a bit in the standings without Harden, likely to the fifth or sixth seed. His playmaking skills, one of the best in the league, are more valuable to this team than you think. He’s a huge reason why the 76ers ranked third in offensive rating (117.0) and eighth in assist percentage (61.6%).
The new sidekick to Embiid would be Tyrese Maxey, who is impressive in his own right. One of the best young guards in the league, Maxey is coming off of a season where he averaged 20.3 points on 48-43-85 shooting splits.
At 22 years old, does he have the same ability to run an offense as well as Harden does? No. However, his potential can’t be ignored, and he can score in a variety of ways.
This is all if Harden doesn’t play, of course. If conflicts are resolved, the 76ers will trot out a similar roster to last season, which garners similar results. Expect them to be a top-four team in the East, with Harden’s playmaking skills elevating Embiid’s game once again.
If The Beard continues to stall and not play, he’ll get fined a boatload of money. Interestingly enough, this type of conflict isn’t new to the 76ers, as Ben Simmons pulled a similar stunt toward the end of his tenure with the team.
He was reportedly fined $19 million for sitting out half of the season.
There are plenty of teams who could use Harden’s services, and there’s no doubt that when he’s on the court, he makes teams better. You may be wondering why a team would take on his contract after this fiasco, but honestly, if the reports are true and Morey did go back on his word, I don’t blame Harden.
I get that the NBA is a business, and things change, but for a player of his caliber, there’s a certain level of trust and respect that goes for the player-front office relationship, especially when Morey and Harden go way back.
Morey was the General Manager for the Houston Rockets from 2007-2020 and traded for Harden in 2012 when the Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn’t give him a maximum contract. They’ve had an 11-year relationship and Morey went on record saying in a letter to Rockets fans before leaving, that, “James Harden changed my life.”
However, you could look at the other side of the story and claim that without Morey giving Harden his own team in Houston, he wouldn’t be the player that he is today.
The debate could go either way, and it’s definitely a sticky situation, but ultimately as fans, we should hope this gets resolved soon, whether that be in the form of Harden taking the court with the Sixers or elsewhere.