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The James Harden Train Wreck Has Left the Station

Philadelphia 76ers GM Daryl Morey has been down this road with James Harden before...and it didn't end well last time, either.

When the dust settled on the 2018-19 NBA season the Houston Rockets were flying as high as they had flown since Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon’s tenure made them one of the best basketball teams in the world. Sure, they had lost in the Western Conference Finals, but they were one Chris Paul ankle injury away from eliminating the dynastic Golden State Warriors and possibly winning the third championship in team history. Unfortunately, they did lose CP3 to an ankle injury, the Warriors did take them out and then Harden made sure the Rockets would be one of the worst teams in the league for years to come. He started by forcing CP3 out in favor of Russell Westbrook, then became the walking, talking definition of a cancer in Houston until they dealt him to the Brooklyn Nets and the Rockets have been reeling ever since.

At the time, Daryl Morey was the GM of the Houston Rockets, and while he has since moved on to the Philadelphia 76ers, he did not learn the critical lesson that led to his departure from Clutch City. He has not learned that banking on James Harden is a little like putting all of your stock in crypto currency. Sure, it looks good from one perspective, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t have lasting value. Harden may be one of the most dynamic scorers in NBA history, but his detractors far outweigh his benefits. 

The 76ers should be an elite team in the Eastern Conference, thanks, in part, to Morey’s former VP of Basketball Ops and former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie. Joel Embiid is one of the best big men in the NBA, Tobias Harris is the most drastically underused asset in the league and Tyrese Maxey should make Harden completely expendable. Simply stated, Philly doesn’t need Harden and they can’t get to the next level with him in the mix. In fact, his presence detracts from the team’s potential.

Apparently Harden has come to realize this fact, but his tactics once again are detrimental to his team. First he opted into a final year with the Sixers at $36 million, which made financial sense as no team would have even remotely considered paying him that much for next season. Then he demanded a trade (basically to the Los Angeles Clippers). Hmmm. So much for having any sense. No NBA GM in their right mind would trade away $36 million in assets for what’s left in Harden’s tank, and certainly not one already banking on a fragile lineup like the Clips have. 

The latest, of course, is that the Sixers have not been able to negotiate a suitable trade so they are expecting to open the season with Harden in the mix and “expect” he will help them compete for a championship this season. Harden’s camp says he will be in peak condition and ready to do just that (until the playoffs start). That would certainly be a nice surprise for Harden, who gained a bunch of weight and turned downright cancerous when he wanted out of Houston. He was recently fined $100,000 for saying he would never play for Morey again, and speculation abounds regarding whether or not he meant this season.  

Morey made his bed …again … and now he gets to lie in it. It may cost him Embiid and, justifiably, his job in the process. 

Bill Ingram is Executive Editor for The Hardwood Huddle, a new website coming to soon from the creators of Back Sports Page. He has been covering the NBA for more than 20 years.

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