More Sports:

July 25, 2023

In new interview, James Harden addresses his future and star trade rumors

James Harden shares his views on the business of basketball as trade rumors swirl.

In the latest chapter of the James Harden trade saga, the Sixers guard might have helped his current team out with a calm and rational view of NBA trade requests. What a swell guy!

Over at USA Today Sports, Mackenzie Salmon interviewed Harden about a number of topics and managed to get an answer out of Harden on player empowerment and the process of requesting a trade. While she asked the question under the banner of Damian Lillard's situation in Portland — Lillard has reportedly locked in on the Miami Heat as his one preferred trade partner — Harden's answer clearly seems to apply to his own situation at present.

SALMON: Damian Lillard right now, he's basically saying he only wants to play for Miami. When it comes to the player empowerment, do you think that's a good thing [or] a bad thing for a player to kind of dictate where they want to play in the league since it's so different than what it used to be?

HARDEN: I see both sides of it. I see both sides because I went through it. The organization wanna do what’s best for them. They don’t want to just give a player that basically is one of the best players that they’ve ever had in their organization away for nothing. So I get the organization’s side. And then I get the player’s side as far as wanting to play and wanting to be somewhere. Whether it’s because it’s the right situation for you, for your family, or yourself, or whatever that person is going through. So I see both sides. So if they can meet in the middle and kind of come to an agreement and figure it out, then that’s like the best scenario. 

I wouldn’t want an organization to send someone somewhere where they wouldn’t [want to] be. Because you’ve built a real relationship with that person. That person has done so many great things for your organization, your franchise. But then, you don’t want to give that player away for nothing. So I get both sides. Just find a balance, meet in the middle, and hopefully both sides can come to an agreement. [USA Today]

While many have been waiting for this Harden/Sixers standoff to get uglier, this is about as fair of a stance as Harden could have taken publicly. And it does appear to be exactly what has happened behind the scenes since Harden made his wishes clear in late June. The Sixers and Harden have worked together on finding a trade partner, though Harden and his representation have not been pleased behind the scenes about the pace that process is moving at. 

The big question at this juncture is whether a "meet in the middle" path is actually feasible here. Harden has had a Clippers or bust mentality this summer, and with Harden making clear he wants to play for the L.A. Clippers this upcoming season, there has been hesitation for anyone to offer up what the Sixers feel is proper value. That applies to the Clippers, too, who are said to be reluctant to part with role player Terance Mann as part of a broader package for Harden. 

(Quick aside here: I like Terance Mann better than many of the Clippers' role players, but it is somewhat absurd that he is where the Clippers are drawing the line on a Harden package. Negotiating tactics aside, he's a 27-year-old role player who has never averaged more than 10.8 points per game, has limited creation equity, and has been an up-and-down shooter on low volume. A good player who can help good teams, but if you're not willing to trade him for Harden in a picks and players package, you are not serious about acquiring him, IMO.)

Does admitting that he understands the balance of team and player mean that Harden is more open to a potential return than we've been led to believe? Probably not. With many of Joel Embiid's current and former teammates celebrating Embiid's marriage over the weekend, Harden and P.J. Tucker were spotted with rap legend/burger master Bun B at Rolling Loud. Harden and Embiid have been hunky dory in public this summer, and Embiid has openly appealed for Harden to return, but it's a small detail suggesting Harden is out of lockstep with the team.

If the Sixers are dragging their feet on this, it sure seems like they have justification to do so. Whatever you think of Harden and how last season ended, Philadelphia would be hard-pressed to maintain or improve on their current level of play without him next season. It would likely require a substantial leap forward from Tyrese Maxey in addition to nailing the return package they get for Harden, and while both of those things are theoretically possible, expectations should be kept in check. Maxey has already taken gigantic, frankly unbelievable steps, and his growth might be a little less explosive moving forward. A trade involving Harden is even trickier, with his age and expiring contract among other factors that would limit his market.

In any case, I'm a little more confident interpreting these quotes than Harden's recent cryptic Instagram stories, where he has said he's ready to get "uncomfortable." Personally, I am ready for the madness to end, but nobody asked me.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports