What would an NBA offseason even be without some James Harden drama? We knew Harden wanted out of Philadelphia, but now, for the first time since the Sixers were knocked out of the playoffs, we’ve heard from Harden himself. 

These comments came over the weekend at an Adidas event in China. So what now? How did we get here and what do the Sixers and Harden do next? Here are some scattered thoughts, based on conversations over the past few months with various Sixers and NBA sources. 

1. I remain completely baffled by Harden’s strategy. I’m all for players trying to get their money, and trying to play for the teams that they want, and live where they want, and for exerting as much control as they can, especially in a system where their employers have the power to trade them. But this isn’t that. 

If Harden was so miserable in Philadelphia, he could have signed elsewhere during free agency. He had that option in his contract. Instead, he decided to opt in to his deal and then try pushing for a trade.

2. Of course, we know why Harden did this. His option for this upcoming season is for $35.6 million. Nobody was offering him that kind of money this summer. So Harden figured he’d try — to use a cliche — having his cake and eating it, too. Which is sort of his right (though it violates the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, which we’ll get to in a bit). But he completely misread the market. 

Tracy McGrady on James Harden: ‘I don’t know what he’s looking for’

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Teams aren’t banging down the Sixers’ doors trying to get Harden. Even the Los Angeles Clippers, the team he’s trying to land with, seem lukewarm on the idea. The Sixers and Clippers have discussed deals, but the Clippers haven’t offered anything the Sixers would consider accepting. 

3. This brings us back to Harden and his team misreading the market. If anyone should be familiar with how Daryl Morey operates, it’s Harden. And Harden should know that Morey was never going to send him to the Clippers for a package of role players. He can’t. Doing so would eliminate the Sixers from contention this season, which is not only bad for the obvious reasons, but it also could push Joel Embiid into losing patience and asking out. 

4. The moment the Houston Rockets hired Ime Udoka, Harden needed to change his strategy. Before that, the Rockets were a legitimate option. And trying to leverage their interest against the Sixers was a smart move. But Udoka, who was an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets when Harden was there, is not a fan of Harden’s. 

His arrival in Houston changed the playing board. From there, Harden had two options. Opt into the deal, play great on a contract year and try securing a bigger, long-term deal next off-season. Or opt out, take a pay cut and go play for the Clippers. But he’s not willing to take a pay cut. Which, again, is his prerogative. But now he might be creating other problems for himself because…

5. In July, ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported the following.

“According to the CBA, any player who ‘withholds playing services for more than 30 days after the start of the last season covered by his contract’ could be deemed to have violated his contract and prohibited from entering free agency or signing with “any other professional basketball team unless and until the team with which the player last played expressly agrees otherwise.'” 

In other words, if Harden wants to hit free agency next year, he has to play. What constitutes “withholding services” is obviously the key question here. But the Sixers believe this gives them leverage. And they may be right.

6. Speaking of leverage: The Sixers also believe that, when it comes down to it, Harden being in a contract year will work in their favor. In their view, if he plays great, he can get a huge contract next summer, whereas if he spends another season moping and loafing he could very well find himself on the Russell Westbrook path. 

7. I think this might be a miscalculation on the Sixers’ part. It’s assumed Harden attacks all this in a rational way, and history has shown us that he is not a rational operator.

8. That unpredictability is probably Harden’s greatest negotiation strength.

9. I’m still not sure what better options the Sixers had. If it was either offering Harden a max contract or dealing with all this, I think choosing the latter was the way to go.

10. That said, Morey is certainly gambling, betting on himself and putting parts of his legacy on the line. Because in Harden he might have met his match. Ben Simmons was willing to stay away from the team and wait. Harden, however, has shown in the past that he’s willing to sabotage things on the court as well.

And so it’s not hard to envision a situation where Morey is forced to cut bait, Embiid starts getting antsy and all the sudden we’re in a position where Daryl Morey becomes the person known for presiding over the period where everything built from The Process was torn down. It might not have been the right move, but it certainly would have been easier to just give Harden the max and kick the can down the road. 

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Why a potential Joel Embiid-Knicks trade makes sense for 76ers

11. You have to think Harden is going to hear from the league office on this one. For one, those remarks made in China could be construed as an admission to taking a pay cut last year because he and the Sixers had agreed on some sort of illegal deal. The Sixers, for what it’s worth, have denied this being the case, and the league did investigate that charge last season and said it found no illegality (the Sixers were docked draft picks for early contract with free agents). Harden clearly believes otherwise.

12. These comments also come on the heels of the NBA sending a memo to all 30 teams in regards to comments made by Damian Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin. 

“We have advised Goodwin and Lillard that any future comments, made privately to teams or publicly,” the memo said, “suggesting Lillard will not fully perform the services called for under his player contract in the event of a trade will subject Lillard to discipline by the NBA.”

13. Put this all together and I have no idea how any of it ends. This being the third time in three years Harden has demanded a trade from a team means he loses the benefit of the doubt. But I also don’t see how Morey and the Sixers extricate themselves from the situation. I think everyone’s misplayed it, and now the ship is sinking.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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