In the words of Ron Burgundy from Anchorman: "Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast."
If you thought that rumors of the 76ers shutting down trade talks for James Harden means that both sides are working towards a reconciliation, think again.
Speaking in front of fans and media while on his offseason tour in China, Harden delivered his most direct message yet as it relates to his tenuous relationship with Daryl Morey and the 76ers. And then he doubled down. "Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he's a part of. Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he's a part of."
James Harden: “Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of. Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.” pic.twitter.com/AmHJ0WwbF2— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 14, 2023
So what exactly happened that led up to this point? Here's a quick breakdown.
James Harden salary
Ultimately, this boils down to Harden's salary and contract.
In the summer of 2022, Harden declined a player option for $47.4 million for the 2022-23 season and instead signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the 76ers that included a player option in 2023-24. That move gave the 76ers more flexibility last offseason to build a contender, most noticeably the room to sign P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. in free agency.
It raised eyebrows at the time, even leading to draft sanction for Philadelphia which ultimately forfeited second-round picks in 2023 and 2024 for violating free agency rules with early discussions with both players.
Nevertheless, Harden gave up short-term money to help the team, and he explained as much in an interview with the Associated Press.
“Taking less money this year to sign as many players as we needed to help us contend and be the last team standing was very, very important to me,” said Harden. “I wanted to show the organization, the Sixers fans and everybody else who supports what we’re trying to accomplish, what I’m trying to accomplish individually, that this is what I’m about.”
By inking that deal, Harden then would have been eligible to sign a four-year, $210 million extension this past offseason by opting out of the second year of that deal. Who knows if those specifics were promised behind closed doors, but long story short, it sounds like that max offer never came from Morey.
Did the 76ers offer Harden a longer-term deal for less than the max? Perhaps. But whatever was offered wasn't good enough in the eyes of Harden who as a result demanded a trade back in June. After over a month of extended trade talks most noticeable with the LA Clippers, Harden's preferred destination, sources reported on Saturday that the 76ers are ending trade talks.
With no longer-term offer on the table, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Harden is now playing out the final year of his latest deal for $35.6 million.