It’s been an abysmal offseason for the Philadelphia Sixers thus far, with all focus, energy and money hinging on the potential trading away of James Harden — a deal that is anticipated to take even into training camp to develop and complete.
Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey discussed the Harden situation in a Tuesday interview with Anthony Gargano on 97.5 The Fanatic. (Well, in perfect “this Sixers offseason” fashion, Morey spoke after the interview’s start was immediately interrupted by a test of the emergency broadcast system.)
“I think James is a very good player and right now, unfortunately, he does prefer to be somewhere else,” Morey confirmed. “I’m attempting to honor that, but the reality is, if we do look at a trade, it’s going to be for one of two things. It’s either going to be for a player who continues to help us be right there like we were last year ... or we’re going to do it for something where we get enough draft picks and things like that in a deal that we could turn those into a player who can be a running mate with Joel [Embiid] as well.”
Fans have quickly grown impatient with the repeated — nearly daily — reports of Harden wanting to leave but a trade not forming, but Morey expressed that waiting for something worthy of giving up a 10-time NBA All-Star is his plan and he’ll be sticking to it.
“If we don’t get either a very good player or something we can turn into a very good player, we’re just not going to do it,” Morey said.
Morey also enthusiastically left the door open for Harden to return to play for the Sixers this season, but that they’re attempting to honor his wishes to leave if the right opportunity arises.
“If James were to turn his mind around, we would all be thrilled,” Morey admitted. “But at this moment he does prefer to be traded and we’re attempting to honor that.”
If recent reports are to be believed, Harden showing up ready to represent the City of Brotherly Love for another year seems unlikely if he has any say about it. NBA insider Shams Charania reported Monday that the relationship between Harden and Morey has been “essentially severed” throughout this offseason’s progression.
When asked about why Harden is pushing so hard to leave Philadelphia, Morey talked about Harden’s contract situation, likely alluding to his reported interest in a longer contract. When the Sixers did not offer him such, Harden instead opted-in to his $35.6 million player option and requested to be traded. Morey stressed, however, that the possible resolution will have to be a certain high-level of beneficial to the Sixers.
“He was wishing for a different situation contractually and I think that’s been the main desire for looking for a new situation,” Morey said. “And, at this point, if we can do something that is win-win and helps the Sixers, then we will look at it and if we can’t, then we won’t.”
The situation is giving Philly fans a nauseating level of deja-vu back to the Ben Simmons debacle, but Morey insists this is a different ballgame entirely.
“James is a Hall of Famer, one of the best players offensively to ever do it, so for us it’s pretty different,” Morey said. “All I know is, we either are going to move him for a player that helps us win now, we’re going to get assets that allow us to go get a good player in the short term, or we’re going to continue to wait and continue to look for other players like a [Tyrese] Maxey or a Joel [Embiid] to take a step forward in that situation.”
Harden had what could be considered an erratic season with the Sixers, from dominating games, like dropping 40+ points on the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, to completely disappearing, like in a few other games of the same series. With his consistent command of the ball, his struggles often hurt the rest of the Sixers’ offense that would attempt to play off him. Morey commented on this during the interview as well.
“I think James is a little bit hard to play with at times. I think Joel is a little bit hard to play with at times. Both these guys are such dominant forces that they can be challenging for guys to play off of,” Morey said.
(Not exactly what I’d say publicly about a guy I’m trying to get an All-Star caliber return for, but sure.)
In regards to the Sixers with Harden looking a lot like they’re just running it back with a new coach in Nick Nurse, Morey made a plea with fans to not obsess over the lineup at this point in the offseason.
“I would just say to the fans, obviously things right now aren’t looking perfect, but at the end of the day, try not to focus on the roster in July,” Morey said. “Focus on the roster during the season and going into the playoffs.”
(Yeah, I don’t think you’ll be getting off that easy with this fanbase, Daryl.)
Overall, Morey confirmed much of what we already expected about the situation: Harden wants out of Philadelphia and the Sixers don’t plan on budging on their expectations of returns. So, until a team comes out of the woodwork with an offer Morey can’t refuse, we are all left waiting.