We’ve had kind of a weird (well not “Sixers weird,” so much as I mean like “it’d be weird if this were a normal team” weird) couple of updates on the never-ending James Harden front today.
“Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden showed up to the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, on Wednesday, much to the team’s surprise. He had been away for the prior 10 days to tend to a personal matter—an excused absence.
During a light shooting session, Harden was approached by team officials.
He was told it would be beneficial for him to remain in Philadelphia to continue the ramp-up process as opposed to going with the team on their two-game road trip starting with the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, league sources tell Bleacher Report....Initially, staying back was interpreted as a suggestion rather than a mandate, sources say. Harden proceeded to participate in portions of the session with the intention of joining the the team on the flight to Milwaukee that afternoon.
After practice, Harden arrived at the fixed-base operator airport to board the team flight, but he was stopped by a security official who notified him that he was not permitted to accompany the team, sources say.”
I’m not sure what to make of that. Was Harden trying to defy the team’s stay-home stance in order to cause headaches and spark a trade? Is he simply a gamer who never ever wants to miss a game and was frustrated by the idea he had to “ramp up?” How awkward was it that the team official turned a disgruntled star who wanted to travel with the team away from the flight? Signs of more conflict to come? Will James be ready to roll for the second game in Toronto or at least on the bench for that one or still ramping?
And then, given the
stupid new we really want stars to play, especially in road games policy the league instituted — hoping to curb load management for non-injured players— there may be some type of investigation into this matter. (Are any teams investigated more than our beloved Sixers?)
Per Adrian Wojnarowski:
ESPN asked the NBA about James Harden and new Player Participation policy. League is investigating. NBA spokesman Mike Bass: "We're looking into the facts around James Harden's availability tonight to determine whether an approved reason exists for his lack of participation."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 26, 2023
Philadelphia is playing a national TV game against Milwaukee tonight, which requires the Sixers to provide the league with a valid explanation for why a healthy recent All-Star isn't playing. Harden returned to the Sixers on Wednesday after being away for 10 days on what team and… https://t.co/L6HljfBBej— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 26, 2023
This situation, a player seeking trade, who didn’t participate in an offseason team program, and was away for “personal matters” for ten days, on the first friggin’ game of the season, sure doesn’t seem to fit under the umbrella the league is looking to tackle here.
That’s about load management, this isn’t that... like at all. This is either some wonky can of disgruntled Harden worms, a mix-up, and/or a team simply being careful with his old hamstrings.
So we’ll learn how literal the NBA wants to be with this stuff.
Actually, now that I think about it, the NBA once used James Harden as a “poster boy” to set the precedent for new rule changes aimed at curbing non-basketball moves. They were pretty tough on Harden to begin the 2021-2022 season by sending a message to the rest of the league about arm hooks or break-checks and other sly tricks that became popular among players and loathed by fans.
As for the Sixers, their position here seems clear. Head Coach Nick Nurse spoke Wednesday at practice about the idea of Harden ramping up with team trainers, folks he’s worked with in the past:
“Well, I would say that decision comes down to [Vice President of Athlete Care] Simon [Rice] and his team, our medical people,” 76ers’ head coach Nick Nurse explained at practice Wednesday. “It’s part of the reason [Harden] will be [staying at the facility]. We’ve got all the finest technology to figure out exactly where he’s at and where he can get to and all those kind of things.”
They should be able to simply tell the NBA’s investigators that a player who hasn’t been practicing for ten days needs to pass through a few obligatory team checkpoints. It’s basic protocol, right?
When Harden was in Brooklyn for example, the Nets had a rather conservative policy that any player returning from a prolonged absence needed to get in three “high intensity” practice sessions before they could play. Kevin Durant had to do that when he came back from a knee sprain on more than one occasion. Ben Simmons never passed during his first season in Brooklyn. Maybe the Sixers have something similar in place, would that be so wild? I guess because Harden is healthy this is different?
Sixers were -10000 to be the first team to break this rule and -5000 to do so in a bizarre and previously unimaginable way https://t.co/VpIzoVTw2g— Mike O'Connor (@MOConnor_NBA) October 26, 2023
But again, the whole thing is odd because you just can’t quite tell if Harden is behaving in a way the team doesn’t appreciate, showing up for the flight rather than sticking around the Camden facility for conditioning work. And it’s difficult to tell if the team really doesn’t mind slow-playing Harden’s return just in case a trade presents itself in the near-term. Imagine what a disaster it would be if he stepped on the court cold without practicing for almost a couple of weeks and pulled a hammy?
But if you want to take the Sixers at their word (which seems reasonable to me) when dealing with a player who battled hamstring, foot, and Achilles issues for the better part of the last three seasons, what’s the harm in a little work with trainers before he gears up for war chasing a dude like Damian f—g Lillard!?
But if the Sixers can’t sell their position, they could be fined.
Under new rules, teams would be fined $100K for a first violation, $250K for a second violation and $1 million more than the previous penalty for each additional violation, sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 13, 2023
They really do hate the Process?
But if these airplane and investigation updates aren’t weird enough for you, something tells me things are going to get much wackier before they normalize regarding the Harden situation.
Cheers, the season begins.