In his first public comments since rejoining the Philadelphia 76ers last week, James Harden told reporters after Friday’s practice he continues to see no way his relationship with Daryl Morey can be repaired while also saying his plan “is to play basketball. Yes, for sure.”
“No,” Harden said flatly, when asked directly whether he thought things could get patched up with Morey. “This is not even about this situation — this is in life.
“When you lose trust in someone, it’s like a marriage … you lose trust in someone, you know what I mean? It’s pretty simple.”
Harden made a point of never saying Morey’s name on Friday, only referring to him as “the front office.”
Harden comparing his relationship with Morey, now Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations, to a marriage is fitting, given the two of them have been virtually tied at the hip ever since the defining moment of both of their careers, which took place 11 years ago this month when Morey brought Harden to the Houston Rockets in a blockbuster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
From there, Harden turned himself into the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2018, and one of its greatest offensive players of this generation and of all time, helping power the Rockets to several playoff appearances, including a pair of Western Conference finals losses to the Golden State Warriors. But after the two of them were reunited this summer, their relationship broke down after the 76ers lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Harden, who called Morey a “liar” during an event in China in August, said the communication between the two sides — after being a constant for years — ended when Philadelphia’s playoff run was over.
“Me and the front office had a very, very good relationship for a decade,” Harden said. “There was constant communication, you know what I mean? There was no communication once we lost.”
When a follow-up question was asked about whether that meant there was no communication once the Celtics series came to an end, Harden didn’t answer.
In that absence of communication, Harden chose to opt into his $35.6 million player option for the 2023-24 season and requested to be traded to the LA Clippers. So far, however, that request has not been granted.
When asked whether he would like to be traded, Harden simply said, “You’ve got to talk to the front office about that.”
And, after missing media day and the team’s first practice at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, last week — a practice Harden said he missed because he was undergoing preseason physicals — he rejoined the team and has been practicing ever since.
Harden said he’s feeling “really, really good” physically but that “there’s another level I feel like I can get to and I want to get to.” He said he is still ramping his body up and won’t play in Monday’s preseason game in Brooklyn against the Nets, but that he could play in the final preseason game next Friday against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I’ll ramp it up and try to play the last one just to get myself in game situations and get used to the physicality of defenders bumping you and whatnot,” Harden said. “The speed, the tempo, all that good stuff. So I think we’ve got a good plan in place.”
Harden’s comments came more than a week after he returned to the team, participating in several practices but sitting out the team’s first two preseason games against the Celtics. The NBA typically gives some level of grace period in these types of situations, but it was reaching the point where that was expected to draw to a close and Harden needed to speak to the media about his situation.
His return, coupled with the nature in which he has done it, has made for an odd situation around the franchise, with everyone involved being pleased with how it’s going in the moment but remaining unsure about what’s Harden’s plans are or what this situation will look like from day to day — let alone from week to week or any longer time frame.
Throughout, however, Harden has made it clear his disdain for Morey doesn’t extend to the team’s new head coach, Nick Nurse, who replaced Doc Rivers earlier this offseason. On several occasions Friday, Harden praised Nurse for his versatility and adaptability as a coach, and he said he’s been impressed with the conversations he has had with Nurse since he took the job and with the scheme Nurse is putting into place.
“I think it’s more spacing, more opportunities for everyone and just unpredictable,” Harden said of Nurse’s system, after previously saying that he was a “player’s coach” and that “he gets it.”
“He can change things up on the fly, and if things in one, five, six, seven possessions aren’t going right, or in one quarter, he can change it and make adjustments. Which is very difficult to do. But he’s very, very good at that.”
Harden, however, is not adjusting his stance on Morey whatsoever. He said that when he was traded to Philadelphia in February 2022, he “wanted to be here, retire a Sixer, and the front office didn’t have that in their plans.”
Now, though, he said he’s simply focusing on what’s in front of him — adding that his plan is to play this season.
“I’ve got to make a decision for my family. This is a business. It’s as simple as that. I come in here today and work my butt off and do the things necessary as a professional as I would do and as I have been doing for 15 years.
“Like I said, I can control what I can control. I take it one day at a time and focus on every day as a new day. My plan is to play basketball, yes, for sure.”
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