It has been weeks since we received word of the ongoing feud between Philadelphia 76ers player James Harden and general manager Daryl Morey. When we last heard from them, Harden had been fined $100,000 for calling Morey a “liar” during a trip to China and saying he would never play for the Sixers again until Morey be there
It looks like nothing has changed between them since then, but we could glean some valuable insights into why and how the relationship was between Harden and Morey, who have worked together since Harden was only a third-year player with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Morey, who was traded for him as general manager of the Houston Rockets, fell apart.
According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne: The protracted argument between them is largely the result of hurt feelings built up over time and a lack of honest communication.
Shelburne reported that cracks were beginning to appear ahead of the 2023 NBA All-Star Game. Harden, who had been selected to the All-Star Game for ten consecutive seasons, finished fourth by a wide margin and was disqualified for the first time since 2011. Commissioner Adam Silver had reportedly planned to offer Harden a place to replace an injured man as long as he promised he would actually show up and play.
But Harden apparently didn’t get back to Silver right away. He reportedly called days later after Silver had already moved on and named another player to replace the injured. Harden had missed his chance to compete in his 11th straight All-Star game. So why did he wait to tell Silver he wanted to play?
According to Shelburne, Harden was sulking.
Doc Rivers is making things worse
Reportedly, Doc Rivers, former head coach of the Sixers, didn’t improve the situation at Harden throughout the season. Rivers cracked down on Harden behind the scenes, according to Shelburne, which has caused “conflicts” between coach and player throughout the season.
One example she cited came in late February, when Harden received permission from the Sixers’ front office to travel separately from the team to Miami before they faced the Heat so he could enjoy some nightlife. But since the Sixers had just lost two hits at home in the heat, Rivers and a few other players reportedly didn’t like it.
There’s nothing unusual about that. Traveling separately for personal reasons (like having fun) is not uncommon in the NBA, and Harden has done it before. And it’s not uncommon for coaches and players to have a certain feeling about when their team has performed poorly. But what Rivers did next turned a simple situation into something deeper. He brought up Harden’s separate trip in a team meeting, naming names.
Days later, Rivers brought it up in a team briefing, sources said, noting several players who had raised concerns about Harden’s behavior.
The entire episode was “awkward,” a source on the team said. While they agreed with the substance of Rivers’ message to Harden and the idea of holding him accountable, the named players were uncomfortable.
The Last Beats
The Morey Harden situation took on its current form after the Sixers’ season reached its disappointing end. Rivers was released in the second round two days after Philly was eliminated from the playoffs again. Shelburne reported that the change was made unofficially because the Sixers knew Harden didn’t want to play for Rivers again.
With that settled, Morey reportedly focused on offering Harden a contract, but there were internal discussions about how much they should offer him. And over at Harden’s camp, he was reportedly expecting a four-year, $210 contract, having decided to keep that kind of money on the table when he turned down renewals with the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets.
Harden had expected to hear from Morey in advance of the July 1 deadline, but reportedly heard nothing. According to Shelburne, Harden felt that Morey “ghosted” him and took it personally. So, without warning, Harden asked his agents to pick up his $35.6 million player option on June 30 and ask for a trade. Morey and the Sixers had no idea this was coming and had reportedly prepared to offer him a contract, but didn’t want to make contact too soon, for a very good reason.
The Sixers were stunned by Harden’s decision, sources said, insisting to him and his representatives that they only distanced themselves because they had just been handed the largest tampering penalty in NBA history and that they were determined to support him to re-sign as soon as possible as the rules allowed.
But Harden had already gone too far.
“James takes things very personally,” said another source close to Harden. “If he feels he’s been wronged, he can be very stubborn.”
After that, the rest is history. Morey bought Harden, primarily from his favorite teams (the Los Angeles Clippers and the New York Knicks), but interest in acquiring Harden had evaporated, especially given Morey’s enormous price tag. As a result, Morey reportedly took Harden off the trade market and decided to keep him rather than extradite him. Harden then traveled to China, called Morey a “liar,” and was fined the largest the NBA can impose.
While this is all wrapped up in the trappings of basketball, what we see with Morey and Harden is quite simple: it’s the long, painful breakup of a once-successful relationship. It’s a basketball divorce, except they’re forced to stay together on the same team as a divorced couple who have to continue living in the house they bought together because they can’t afford to live apart .
The next chapter in this saga has yet to be written, but we’re not far from making it happen. The training camp starts at the end of September. With a new head coach on board (Nick Nurse) we could see some changes. But as long as Harden and Morey remain at odds, it could be a very awkward season in Philadelphia.