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Harden: ‘Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of’

James Harden China Tour In Shanghai

SHANGHAI, CHINA - AUGUST 13: James Harden, American basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association (NBA), interacts with students during his China tour on August 13, 2023 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Tang Yanjun/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

China News Service via Getty Images

Over the weekend, news broke the Philadelphia 76ers have ended James Harden trade talks, with the franchise and president Daryl Morey expected to bring the former MVP to training camp.

On tour for Adidas in Shanghai, China, Harden fired back at the idea he would meekly return to the 76ers — and left no doubt where he stands.

Boy, that escalated quickly.

It’s a masterclass by Harden, slamming Morey while in China, where that will play very well (remember Morey’s Tweet about Hong Kong protestors). Harden made things personal with those comments. For his part, don’t expect this to change Morey’s mind.

This sets up a potential showdown at the start of 76ers training camp — does Harden hold out and not show up, or show up and be disruptive until he gets his way (as he did in Houston)? The smart bet is disruption, in part because the CBA forces Harden’s hand — if he holds out for more than 30 days in the final year of his contract (which this is), he is seen as not fulfilling the contract and forfeits his free agency status and can’t outright sign with another team as a free agent next summer.

The Clippers — Harden’s preferred trade destination — will just sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch this play out.

Los Angeles is not about to up its current lowball trade offer for Harden after this. Morey has MVP Joel Embiid in his prime and a title-contending roster, he asked for a lot back in a trade wanting to keep the 76ers at that level. The Clippers’ offer — reportedly some veteran matching salary and a couple of picks — is nowhere near that. There are no other serious suitors for Harden and his forcing his way off a third team in four years (Houston, Brooklyn, now Philadelphia) does not have other GMs lining up for a bidding war. They have seen this movie.

As always, this argument is about money. In the summer of 2022, Harden took a $14.4 million salary haircut, opting out of his $47.4 million contract with the 76ers to create cap space for Morey to sign P.J. Tucker and Danuel House, then Harden re-signed for $33 million, or “what was left” of the space the 76ers had under the hard cap. It all led to a tampering investigation by the league that cost the 76ers two second-round picks. Harden believed he had an understanding with Morey and would be rewarded for his sacrifice this summer. Morey didn’t see it that way. After another second-round playoff exit and Harden’s game showing some signs of slippage, not to mention the league’s tampering investigation hanging over the situation, Morey didn’t hand Harden a max or near-max contract this summer.

Harden feels betrayed. The sides reportedly agreed that Harden would pick up his $35.6 million for this season and Philly would look for a trade. Philly would say that trade is not out there, that clearly doesn’t change Harden’s mind. Harden lost leverage by grabbing that cash (which was not there for him on the free agent market, especially if he was trying to get to a contender). Harden also lost leverage when his well-reported flirtation with a return to Houston — something seen around the league as likely for much of last season — fell apart right after the Rockets hired Ime Udoka as coach.

The war of words between the 76ers and Harden has provided some offseason fireworks.

However, that could be nothing compared to Oct. 2 when training camps open.