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Yet Another James Harden Trade Saga—The Philadelphia 76ers

Zachary Yuan

James Harden wearing the number 1 on the Philadelphia 76ers.

Most NBA fans would agree that James Harden is one of the most controversial figures in the league. Harden, a ten-time NBA All-Star and seven-time All-NBA player, is widely regarded as one of the league's greatest scorers, and he has proved his skill time and time again on the court. Drafted in the 2009 NBA Draft to the Oklahoma City Thunders (OKC) as the third overall pick, Harden instantly made an impact on the court, winning NBA sixth-man of the year and guiding OKC to the NBA finals in the 2011-2012 season.

Houston Rockets

However, Harden is most well-remembered during his era at the Houston Rockets. Harden was traded to Houston in 2012, where Daryl Morey, then Houston's general manager, believed he had the tools of a future superstar. Harden won the 2017 to 2018 Most Valuable Player award, while the Rockets became perennial contenders, never missing the playoffs during his first eight seasons with the team. However, things went south after the 2018 season, as Harden was not happy with the Rockets’s leadership and team. Harden requested the Rockets to sign Russell Westbrook, and after threatening to leave if the front office didn’t do so, the Rockets fulfilled his request. But both Harden and Westbrook failed to perform together on the court, and after one single season, both players wanted to leave. But instead of focusing on improving his game with the Rockets, Harden was determined to force his way to the Brooklyn Nets. He refused to show up to the Rockets’s training camp back in 2021, and, instead, attended parties and did not perform as expected on the court. Harden even told reporters the Rockets were "just not good enough." Finally, the Rockets had enough, and the next day, Harden was traded to the Nets to form a superteam with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Brooklyn Nets

Harden’s tenure at the Nets was underwhelming. Both Durant and Harden were plagued by on and off injuries, and even when they were healthy, Harden did not look like himself. The trio ended up playing just 16 games together across two seasons. And just like that, 13 months after his trade from the Rockets, Harden was pressing for another trade. He resisted making a formal request out of fear of public backlash for asking out once again, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, but he wanted a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers to reunite with Morey, their current President. Harden missed his final few games from an injury, and on deadline day, he was traded to the 76ers, with Ben Simmons coming the other way.

Philadelphia 76ers

Harden started off strong, forming a partnership with Joel Embiid and dropping numbers that somewhat resembled his time in Houston. He even declined a large contract and took a pay cut to enable the 76ers the salary cap flexibility to sign more role players like PJ Tucker. According to Wojnarowski, Harden told Morey that he wanted to do his part to fortify the team's roster and give it a chance to compete for a championship. However, in his second season as a 76er, Harden’s numbers declined. After suffering another disappointing early exit from the NBA playoffs, and with Morey and the Sixer’s front office refusing to give him a new lucrative contract, Harden wanted a trade again. However, this time was different. No one wanted him.

76ers Trade Request

Harden requested his trade back in late June, and over the course of the four months, Harden has already used most of his moves. In August, Harden publicly called Morey a "liar" and suggested he would not fulfill his contract with the 76ers as long as Morey remained President. The league fined Harden 100,000 dollars for that. Footage was shown of Harden displaying a ‘Daryl Morey is a liar’ sign in a bar where he partied. Harden did not even show up to the 76ers media day, pre-season training, and pre-season games. And in the first pre-season game, young guard Tyrese Maxey balled out, cooking players, as if showing that there is no need for Harden. So, if no teams want Harden, where is he going to go?

Los Angeles Clippers

This week, new reports have shown that the Los Angeles Clippers are in fact interested in Harden. However, the Clippers already have stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, so why would they still want Harden? Apparently, the Clippers are in desperate need of a ball handler to general the court. Moreover, Kawhi and George have suffered multiple injuries throughout the season, and adding Harden would mean one more star to help the team out in case the others are injured.

But why hasn’t this trade happened yet? This is because the 76ers front office is not satisfied with what the Clippers are offering for him. The 76ers want Robert Covington, Terance Mann, and Marcus Morris for James Harden. This trio of floor-spacing forwards would be perfect for the 76ers, giving them multiple accurate shooting options, but why hasn’t this deal gone through yet? Reports have said that Daryl Morey is in fact the one “holding up” a deal. Apparently, the Clippers consider Terrance Mann untouchable and are unwilling to trade him. Yet Morey is unwilling to settle for any other deal. So, what does this mean for Harden?

What now?

In a turn of attitude, Harden has been seen practicing and even praised new 76ers Head Coach Nick Nurse. It seems like the plan is for Harden to suit up, even if he isn't happy with the current situation, play well during the regular season, and hopefully get clubs interested before the playoffs. In fact, Harden is said to be desperate to win a ring, after failing to do so for his entire career.

We’ve seen this saga over and over again. Harden’s first few seasons at his new club are plagued by injuries, bad luck, or simply bad basketball, and ends with an early exit at the playoffs. Once Harden realizes that there’s a slim chance of winning a ring with his team, and if the front office refuses to pay him more, he tries to force a trade by refusing to turn up to training and speaking out to the media. And this time, the 76ers front office knows they have a decision to make: keep Harden or trade for something less than his worth? At the end of the day, whatever this whole transfer saga plays into, it will greatly affect how Harden goes down in the history books, and also the 76ers’ place in the Eastern Conference.


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