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James Harden: self-saboteur

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James Harden knows his audience, doesn’t he?

Harden this weekend told a group in China that he’d never play for a team that employed Darryl Morey.

Morey is the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly this weekend reportedly ended all trade talks centering around Harden. It had been rumored that Harden would likely be dealt to the LA Clippers.

Harden in China called Morey “a liar.” He picked the right place to go after the GM. Morey a few summers back in a now-deleted Tweet showed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Morey at the time was GM of the Houston Rockets, where Harden starred for much of the last decade. Morey’s Tweet led to NBA games being pulled off the airwaves in China for more than two years.

Harden ripping into Morey is highly ironic. 

Morey saw something in Harden in 2012, when the guard was a role player on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Morey just before the start of the 2012-13 season traded for Harden and made him the Rockets’ centerpiece going forward. Morey multiple times pushed for Harden to be named league MVP, and even called the lefty the best scorer in league history. Harden won the award in 2018.

Their tenures in Houston ended around the same time. Morey left at the end of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and Harden forced his way out of Houston early into the 2020-21 campaign, leading to a trade to Brooklyn.

Less than two years later, Harden played his way to Philly, and Morey was at the airport to greet him.

The two have been attached at the hip for more than a decade. So how did we get here?

Harden last summer opted into a two-year deal with Philly when he could have likely gotten the long-term security in what would have likely been the 14-year veteran’s last big payday. Harden took less money in an effort to help the Sixers improve a roster that hasn’t been good enough to get past the second round of the playoffs. The guard likely took the pay cut with a promise of being taken care of on the backend, or this summer.

The money hasn’t come. Harden for the upcoming season is on Philly’s books for $35.64 million. It’s the last year of his deal. Harden will be 34 on Aug. 26. He’s eligible to sign a four-year max with Philly totaling about $210 million. The most he can get in a four-year deal with another team is about $201 million. 

Harden wants his money, as he rightfully should. He’s played his way into eventually being a first-ballot hall of famer. Harden was one of the very best players in the world the last decade. He’s not going about it the right way, though.

With the way his tenure with the Rockets and Nets ended, Harden is gaining a reputation as a bit of a malcontent. When he’s done, you can tell he’s done. Ask Houston and Brooklyn about it. Harden is a better self-saboteur than Larry David.

Him going off on Morey isn’t going to increase Harden’s market value. And Morey has a rep for waiting until the perfect deal to execute a trade for a star. With Philly reported being content to bring Harden into camp, they’re stuck with each other for now. 

Just like they’ve always been.

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