August 19, 2023
The growing tension between James Harden, Daryl Morey, and the Sixers now seems to have caught the league's concern.
Per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, the NBA has launched an inquiry into the situation surrounding Harden and the Sixers, stemming from Harden's comments earlier in the week at an Adidas Basketball event in China where he called Morey, the Sixers' president of basketball operations, "a liar."
According to the report, the league is trying to determine whether Harden's comments were threat of a holdout, which would be a violation of its collective bargaining agreement, or reference to past contract discussions and a possible "handshake deal" that could be considered as salary cap circumvention.
Harden picked up his 2023-24 player option with the Sixers back at the end of June, but only did so with the understanding that the team would work with him to seek out a trade, preferably to the Los Angeles Clippers. Little progress was made on that front, however, as a summer's worth of rumors and speculation went by.
Morey's stance throughout was that he would only make a trade when the return ran in line with the Sixers' title aspirations, but nothing compelling seemed to ever be offered, and earlier this month, he pulled back on trade discussions with the expectation that the team would have Harden at training camp in September.
That seems to be the driving force behind the "liar" comments pointed at Morey, or at least that's what Harden's side is maintaining it is.
Nevertheless, Harden has privately indicated that his public comments calling Morey a "liar" on Monday morning had only been a response to Morey ending trade discussions with an expectation that Harden would start the season with the Sixers, sources said.
Neither the Sixers nor Harden would be in violation of any league guidelines should that be communicated to league officials. [ESPN]
Additionally, the report states that Harden has never made allegations pointing to the existence of a "handshake deal," while the Sixers have denied the idea of ever having created one.
This is the second time in as many summers that the Sixers have come under league scrutiny, with both instances having fallen under Morey's watch and carrying at least some connective tissue to who was supposed to be Philadelphia's All-Star guard.
Last year, the Sixers were docked second-round draft picks in 2023 and 2024 after being found to have engaged in premature free-agency discussions with P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. that qualified as tampering. These illegal talks also happened while Harden took a significant pay cut under the suspicion of cap circumvention, though that part was ultimately found of no wrongdoing.
With Harden making it increasingly clear that he wants out and that he and the Sixers are well past the point of no return, the organization was already navigating dangerous waters, and the situation doesn't stand to get any easier the longer this draws out – especially now that the league itself is knocking on the Sixers' door (again).
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