James Harden doesn’t want to be in Philly, but the 76ers are searching for the right deal. How does the new NBA CBA affect how both sides operate?
The long summer is officially over — the NBA is back.
Well, sort of. Monday is the first day veteran players are able to report to their respective teams for the 2023-24 campaign, with training camp officially set to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 3. For the Philadelphia 76ers, they will take their camp to Colorado Springs, but when they do, it appears it’ll be without James Harden.
Harden was not in attendance at the team’s Media Day in Camden on Monday, nor did he join new coach Nick Nurse and the rest of the crew in the team’s first practice of training camp on Tuesday in Colorado Springs. It was beginning to seem like The Beard intended to stick by the word he sent out earlier in the summer by not joining Joel Embiid and Co. on their trip west, but then multiple reports surfaced saying that Harden traveled to Colorado early Wednesday.
However, he’s likely not there for good vibes. In fact, “he wants to make the 76ers uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, ultimately, that they don’t think that they’re going to get the best out of him and make a trade,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported.
But if there’s one thing that we’ve learned motivates James Harden, it’s money. If he continues to hold out and no trade comes to fruition, the new NBA CBA — approved in April — will come into play, and Daryl Morey and the Philadelphia front office could cause significant hurt to Harden’s wallet.
Let’s break it down.
How We Got Here
Once upon a time, James Harden and Daryl Morey were a match made in heaven. So much so that Morey took out an entire page in a Houston newspaper to thank the generational guard when the two went through this song-and-dance the first time with the Houston Rockets.
If anyone knows the “negotiating” tactics of Harden and his camp, it’s Morey. He saw firsthand how difficult life can be with a disgruntled Harden in his final days in Houston. He flipped the script by reaping the benefits a couple of seasons later when Morey was tasked with fixing another situation with an unhappy star in Ben Simmons, landing Harden and giving the 76ers new life.
Well, I guess time is a flat circle (insert Matthew McConaughey from True Detective gif here) because it took all of a season-and-a-half for Harden to run the same play on Morey and the Philly front office.
This time was slightly different, however, as Harden had some control here. As someone who claims to want a trade to the LA Clippers, The Beard had a player option on the table for this upcoming season. All he had to do was decline it and enter free agency negotiations with the team of his choice. But he surprised Morey and the rest of Philadelphia by opting into that final year worth $35.6 million, supposedly with the idea that Morey would trade him to his preferred destination of LA.
Caught off guard, Morey claims he is working with Harden’s representation on a potential deal “to resolve that in the best way for the 76ers and hopefully all parties,” he said at Media Day on Monday. There’s a lot of he said/he said going on in terms of the negotiations, with Harden calling Morey a “liar” and saying that he would never be a part of an organization that Morey is leading.
That’s not exactly what you want to hear when trying to put together a championship roster. The Beard doubled down on the sentiment last week when he threw a party in Houston. There, a “DARYL MOREY IS A LIAR” sign circulated the crowd.
Morey made clear on Monday that he continues to work toward a Harden trade, but he maintains it will have to be a move that makes sense for the 76ers. But even so, Morey, Embiid, and everyone who spoke to the media on Monday essentially sent the same message — they’d gladly take Harden back.
“Look, I think he’s a heck of a basketball player,” Morey said. “I like him as a person. It was hard, I think, that he felt the right course of action for him was that. I think he’s a tremendous player who will help us if he chooses to be here.”
Harden’s seen this movie before, and he knows how it ends. But can that same play work for a third time? Perhaps not.
The New NBA CBA
The new NBA CBA is especially relevant when it comes to how this Harden/76ers situation could play out.
Harden has every right to hold out, should he choose to do so. But with this new agreement, that would cost him a decent chunk of change if he extends this for too long.
“A player who withholds playing services called for by a Player Contract for more than thirty (30) days after the start of the last Season covered by his Player Contract shall be deemed not to have “complet[ed] his Player Contract by rendering the playing services called for thereunder.” Accordingly, such a player shall not be a Veteran Free Agent and shall not be entitled to negotiate or sign a Player Contract with any other professional basketball team unless and until the Team for which the player last played expressly agrees otherwise.”
Simply put, due to his status with an expiring contract, if Harden holds out for more than 30 days after the start of the season and the team doesn’t trade him, the Philadelphia 76ers have the ability to block Harden from entering free agency this upcoming season. And if he decides to take this into the season and start sitting out games, that’s when the fines come into play.
According to the CBA, a player will be fined 1/96.1th of his base salary per game missed, and that goes for exhibition games as well. Quick math suggests that each missed game would cost Harden roughly $389,000. Not only that, but he can also be fined for missed practices — $2,500 for the first missed session, $5,000 for the second, $7,500 for the third, then an amount “reasonable under the circumstances,” per the CBA, for any missed practices after that.
So the 76ers can both hurt Harden’s wallet in the immediate and have a say in his future.
For reference, according to an ESPN report, the 76ers have paid Harden the 25% of his contract he was scheduled to receive by Sunday. He had already received a 25% payment in July.
The above measure was meant to prevent incidents like this one, so we could see how effective it is as it plays out over the next month here. We are only set to enter Day 1 of training camp on Tuesday, so there’s a lot to unfold still, but as we saw two offseasons ago with Simmons or even with Harden in Houston and Brooklyn, there are ways Harden can potentially satisfy the above, yet still be an extreme nuisance to the team.
The best course of action is for both sides to reach some sort of middle ground as they work toward a permanent resolution. On one side, you have a Philadelphia 76ers team that was once rich in assets but now has limited maneuverability after blowing through them these last few seasons. On the other, you have a disgruntled star who is going to extreme lengths to get what he wants. Neither really holds a ton of leverage, and as PHLY’s Kyle Neubeck recently wrote, Harden and the 76ers kind of need each other, even if it’s just a pathway to an eventual trade.
Photos and clips from Colorado Springs will begin to surface over the coming days for the Philadelphia 76ers. As of now, fans shouldn’t expect to see Harden in any of them. But if he wants to have control of his future and his savings, he may have to reconsider.
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