The league office is believed to be pursuing an understanding of whether Harden was portending a 2023-2024 hold out 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.
The Sixers, nor Harden would be in violation of any league guidelines should that be communicated to league officials.
The Sixers informed Harden that they hadn’t found a suitable trade with his preferred destination of the LA Clippers and expected him to report to the team’s training camp in September — something that 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 that 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 2023-2024 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 the Sixers 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 that 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 the Sixers 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 upon an illegal future deal with Harden — nor agreed and reneged on it, 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 of 2022 – in part due to his strong professional and personal ties to Morey. Harden replied to a KHOU 11 television reporter in Houston on Thursday that “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.”
The Sixers 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 three-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 overall 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 2021 preseason camp and never played again for the Sixers. Eventually, Simmons was traded to the Nets for Harden.