The NBA has opened an inquiry into Philadelphia 76ers star guard James Harden’s public criticism of Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, ESPN reported on Saturday.
The move, sources confirmed to ESPN, came after Harden, who has pushed for a trade to no avail, called Morey a “liar” on Monday in China and said Thursday in Houston he considers his relationship with the 76ers beyond repair.
Harden said in China regarding Morey that he would “never be a part of an organization that he’s part of,” which raised concerns at the league office, according to the report.
The NBA, sources told ESPN, wants to know if Harden’s remarks are a hint of a contract holdout, which would violate the league’s new collective bargaining agreement with the players union, or a possible comment on past contract talks with the team that could violate salary cap rules.
The report said Harden has privately said his comments were only aimed at Morey having cut off talks about a trade deal for the backcourt star, who turns 34 next Saturday.
The Sixers had informed Harden, ESPN reported, that the club had not been able to come to terms with the Los Angeles Clippers, Harden’s preferred trade location, and that he should expect to report to the 76ers pre-season training camp next month.
Harden, the 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player, exercised a player contract option in June for next season worth $35.6 million, allowing Philadelphia to sign two veteran free agents — with the understanding Morey would work on a deal to send him to the Clippers.
Morey, however, must now look at keeping reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid, a 7-foot (2.13m) center from Cameroon, happy about the 76ers’ chances to be a title contender.
That means hanging onto Harden or getting top talent in return for a trade, with the risk of what an unhappy Harden might mean for the locker room and team chemistry.
Morey has twice traded for Harden, most recently last year in a deal with Brooklyn and previously while general manager of the Houston Rockets.
Morey, whose 2019 tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters became a major controversy in China, left the Rockets in 2020 and was quickly hired by the 76ers.
Harden is a three-time NBA scoring champion and 10-time NBA All-Star guard. He led the NBA in assists last season.
The 76ers lost to Boston in last season’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, with Harden going scoreless in the second half of a decisive seventh-game defeat.
It was the sixth consecutive playoff appearance for the 76ers but they have not reached the Eastern Conference final since a 2001 run to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
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