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Report: NBA could investigate James Harden’s Daryl Morey ‘liar’ claim

James Harden called Daryl Morey a “liar” earlier this week. Could the NBA end up investigating Morey, the Sixers, or Harden himself?

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce New Players - Press Conference Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The video of Sixers guard James Harden calling the franchise’s President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey a “liar” all but guaranteed the situation brewing in Philadelphia would get ugly. Well, uglier.

And one obvious question arose from the viral video: What did Morey allegedly lie about?

There’s a number of possible scenarios. Some more illegal in NBA terms than others.

The league has so far declined to comment when asked whether it will open a second investigation into the 76ers’ offseason dealings with Harden, according to NBA reporter Marc Stein.

If you’re reading and thinking “wait, second investigation?”, Stein’s summary of the league’s investigation into Sixers’ transactions around this time last year can catch you up:

The first investigation, which began roughly this time last year, ultimately found Philadelphia guilty of no more than impermissible early contact with free agents P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr., which cost the Sixers their 2023 and 2024 second-round picks. The league office found no wrongdoing with regard to the $14-plus million pay cut that Harden took to give Philadelphia sufficient wiggle room under the luxury-tax line to sign Tucker and House and trade for De’Anthony Melton.

And that was thought to be the end of that. Stein added, however, that there are now “calls for the league to re-investigate Philly again to try to assess what Morey allegedly lied to Harden about.”

There’s a number of things that could have been promised/reneged on, but some would be more consequential for the franchise than others.

The most damning scenario for the Sixers would be the pay-cut quid pro quo last offseason. If Morey promised Harden that he’d get long-term, max contract this summer in exchange for taking a pay cut last year, the Sixers could be in hot water with the league office.

If Harden is accusing Morey of this scenario, though, his own words from last year may come back to bite him. Harden made it clear to Yahoo Sports in July 2022 that he was taking the pay cut for the sake of helping the Sixers compete for an NBA title.

“I had conversations with Daryl, and it was explained how we could get better and what the market value was for certain players. I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over,” Harden told Yahoo Sports. “This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all that matters to me at this stage. I’m willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that.”

So, if Harden was accusing Morey of failing to fulfill a promise of a future max contract in return for a temporary pay cut, he’d be outing himself as just as big of a liar as Morey. Personal honesty aside, though, this scenario turning out to be true would be a big problem for the Sixers, all but guaranteeing consequences being handed down by the league, Stein says:

If Harden is suggesting that the Sixers made some sort of contractual promise last summer — which the team has adamantly denied and maintains it was already cleared of doing — they will certainly be subject to league discipline

It seems Harden’s video could start an even bigger storm for the franchise than he intended... or one just as big as he intended.

There’s another possible promise/lie scenario — one where Morey promises Harden that he will trade him if he opts into his player option for this season. That wouldn’t result in any discipline from the league office, as it isn’t against the rules, as Stein points out:

If Harden is suggesting that Morey promised to trade him in late June after Harden picked up next season’s $35.6 million player option and then reneged on that promise, that is not a violation of league rules even if true.

All of this is to say that it’s possible for the league to investigate the Sixers again in light of Harden’s “liar” comments. However, seeing as they found no wrongdoing involving Harden’s pay cut this time last year, it’s unlikely the investigation would result in a different outcome without new evidence.

As for whether or not Harden himself could face discipline for his statements in China, Stein said it’s pretty unlikely, as he hasn’t broken any rules. Not yet, at least.

He publicly and pointedly criticized the highest-ranking official in the 76ers’ front office, but there’s no league rule that precludes him from doing so. You’ll note that Harden hasn’t publicly demanded a trade — which would subject him to league discipline — and any talk about him refusing to play for Philadelphia is just talk until he actually fails to show up for mandatory team business.

Harden walking-the-walk on his recent talk of not participating in Sixers’ activity seems all but guaranteed now, but we shall see. Training camps are set to open on Oct. 3.

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