James Harden is now well into his tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers. But the ending of his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, and more specifically the dramatic strain to his relationship with Daryl Morey, still leaves many to wonder what exactly led to Harden last summer in front of a crowd of people in Japan while debuting his newest Adidas sneaker.
In a recent interview with The Athletic, Harden got candid about the situation, and explained the backstory that led to him calling out Morey, whom he once had a decade-long close working relationship with. While everything bubbled to the surface this past offseason, it actually started in the summer of 2022. At the end of the 2021-22 season, Harden and instead signed a two-year, $68.6 million deal with a player option in the second year. It was considered a which allowed Philadelphia to sign other key players.
Harden said that when he signed the smaller deal so that the Sixers could sign P.J. Tucker, De'Anthony Melton and Danuel House, he was explicitly told by Morey that by taking a pay cut the Sixers would give him a max contract deal the next summer. But when the time came for him to get that max deal, Morey went quiet on him, which led to him calling the Sixers president a liar and requesting a trade.
"Yeah, me and Daryl had a really good relationship," Harden said. "So (in the past), a week or two after we lose in the playoffs, it would be all about trying to figure out how to improve the team. (They'd talk about) 'How do we get better?' And that's been going on for 10-plus years, you know what I mean? And then this year, there was no communication. And at that point, it's like, 'OK, I see what's going on.' I'm very intelligent. So then I just figure out 'What's my next move, and what do I want to do?' So I understand that, at the end of the day, this is a business. And just like he has to do what's best for his organization, I've got to do what's best for me and my family. It's as simple as that."
It was reported that the reason Morey didn't reach out to Harden was because of the Sixers previously being docked two second-round picks by the league for engaging in free agency talks with Tucker and House prior to the start of the negotiation period. But Harden said Morey spoke to his representation about a max contract before playoffs started last season.
Once Harden opted in on the final year of his deal and simultaneously requested a trade from the Sixers, he took issue with how long the situation took.
"...The day that I opted in, there was a conversation and communication (with the Sixers) about it being a 10-day process," Harden said. "This was gonna happen within 10 days, and then it got dragged out for four-and-a-half months or however long it was. So at that point, you're holding my life up, holding everybody else's life up. You're making it look crazier than what it is. And something that we had internal conversations about is basically dragging out, so it was a little frustrating.
"All in all, I'd sacrificed all that to go to Philly with some people that I trusted, and it bit me in the ass, you know what I mean? So it's part of life, and we all go through certain things, so it's gonna make me tougher."
The "sacrifice" Harden's referencing is the pay cut he took to give the Sixers more financial freedom, but the promises that were made to him weren't fulfilled. The former league MVP even said that had there been more communication between him and Morey, perhaps their relationship would be in a different place than it is now.
"...Instead of (Morey) having a conversation with me (about free agency) or saying, 'All right James, we don't want to offer you this, but we have this.' Then we go back and forth, and that's a dialogue," Harden said. "But you just ice me out? Then it's like, you don't respect me as much as I thought you did. You don't need people like that, you know what I mean? So it's just bad karma. People were throwing dirt on my name, but the good guys always win."
And if you were wondering if Harden's reached out or talked to Morey since being traded, the answer is no. "There's too much money, too much respect (lost) and too much loyalty on my end to even double back (with Morey)," Harden said. "There's nothing to talk about. There's nothing to talk about. This is real money."