FORT COLLINS, Colo. — When James Harden left the practice hall at Moby Arena after his second day of training camp on Thursday, it was only fitting that the man who has drawn so much ire from the Philadelphia 76ers star all these months should be the president of basketball operations. Daryl Morey, he was on his way in.
However, they did not meet, nor did they exchange any crosswords. Thus, the light mood that has surprised many since Harden decided to join the team on Wednesday has remained intact. Harden was smiling before leaving, and spoke with assistant coaches Bobby Jackson and Rico Haynes near one of the baskets after the practice in which he participated in team drills but not direct work. Multiple sources familiar with Harden’s two practice sessions say he was an active and positive participant. Morey, who made it clear he would not honor Harden’s trade request to the Clippers unless the asking price was met, went on his way in good spirits as well.
All of this begs the question of why.
Why did Harden, who called Morey a “liar” in August and swore he would “never be a part of an organization he’s a part of,” choose to come to work and act in such a professional manner? Too little to see coming?
The most obvious answer, of course, is money.
By participating, Harden avoids the kind of financial fate that Ben Simmons faced when he lost nearly $20 million during his showdown with the Sixers during the 2021-22 season. But beyond the financials, league sources say Harden is also involved because he remains optimistic that a deal with the Clippers is still in the works and believes, for now, it would be wise to not be a distraction. League sources say the Clippers are doing everything they can to make that happen.
League sources say the Clippers have spoken to several teams about ways to move pick swaps to obtain additional capital with the goal of bolstering their offer and completing a deal.
League sources say the Clippers offered the Sixers an unprotected first-round pick and a pick-and-salary swap for Harden in July, but Philadelphia set a much higher threshold. The Sixers have evaluated fifth-year forward Terance Mann and several first-round picks in a potential trade with the Clippers, sources added. Mann, who averaged 8.8 points and 3.4 rebounds last season, has become a source of interest for teams over the past two years.
The 76ers still have a “job to do” and title hopes — with or without James Harden
If the Clippers can add to their offering in the meaningful way both teams have previously discussed, the next phase in the Harden saga will unfold from there and the ball will be, so to speak, in Morey’s court. But for now, with the Sixers wrapping up camp on Friday and a preseason game in Boston on Sunday, it seems likely that Harden’s participation will continue.
For a team that has maintained its message about its championship aspirations, with first-year coach Nick Nurse holding camp in Colorado as a reminder to his players that the title passes through the defending champion Denver Nuggets, Harden’s unresolved situation is clearly a major hurdle for the team. This goal. And while sources say Harden is still as strong as ever — he wants his Sixers career to be over and play for his hometown Clippers — it came as a surprise to many that those first two days were drama-free. Furthermore, he came into camp in good shape after certainly hearing social media jibes in the summer from fans and media members alike about his potential weight gain.
“It was good,” Sixers big man and reigning MVP Joel Embiid said after practice when asked about Harden’s return. “He was doing a little bit. Of course, he didn’t play (at the live events), but the energy was great. He was there, and I think it’s great for us. Being present and not being distracted — not that he was going to distract us anyway, because we were in Extreme focus.
“I think this group is a little different than it was two years ago, when we had the situation (with Simmons). With the new coaching staff and everything that’s going on, it’s been easy. I don’t think anyone has been caught up in what’s going on.”
Embiid was then asked if he expects Harden to remain with the team, in essence, in the coming days and weeks.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he continued. “He’s here. He’s training with us, and you know, that’s all we know. But like I said, we’re not focusing on that. We’re just trying to focus on getting the offense together, the defense together, and figuring out how to play together.”
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While Harden did not participate in the team dinner Tuesday night, when the Sixers travel to nearby Boulder to meet with Colorado football coach Deion Sanders, he is staying at the team hotel. As veteran goalkeeper Danny Green explained, his part on the court was viewed positively by his teammates.
“I want to give credit to guys like Pat (Beverly), P.J. (Tucker), and James as well,” Green said. The athlete. “As long as these guys have been in the league, and over the course of their tenure, they’ve all gone pro. James, at the end of the day, is a pro. People may not look at him that way, but he’s a winner. Since he’s come into the league, he’ll probably be in the top five or Top 10 for most wins since he’s been in this league. Maybe not the playoffs and championships, but he wins and he comes to work and works on his body, and you can see that. … He takes his body seriously. He takes his game seriously. And he’s not one of those guys that’s going to come in And they get distracted.
But as with everyone within the Sixers organization, Green is well aware that there is a level of unpredictability with Harden that will likely remain until his wish is granted.
““At the end of the day, playing against him for so many years, playing with him for a short period of time and knowing James, I don’t see him not playing,” Green said. “There’s a little bit of not knowing (what he’s going to do next). He’s upset, but I think he’s trying to separate the two. You can feel the upset there, but be family here, be great with his teammates, be great with his brothers, be part of Something that knows he can make something happen and be special.
(James Harden Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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