James Harden's leverage is dying with every Sixers win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
After a one-point loss on the road to a Milwaukee Bucks team favored to win the Eastern Conference, Joel Embiid and Company buzzsawed their way through wins over Toronto and Portland, the latter punctuated by Embiid’s Triple-H crotch chop.
Harden sat on the bench for Sunday night’s blowout win, making sure he was noticed in a Day-glo green hoodie. No one could miss him. But on the court, no one actually did miss him.
Translation: Come on back whenever, James. Or don’t. We can win without you.
Harden requested a trade from the Sixers upon opting in on his salary for this season in July – his third trade request in 30 months – citing the Clippers as his preferred destination. A month later, he said that he would never play for Daryl Morey again, calling him a liar.
With every solid performance turned in by the Sixers, Harden’s leverage with Morey further erodes.
He missed more than a week of practice, then was turned away at the airport as the team boarded its charter to Milwaukee for the season opener. And after swearing off playing for GM Daryl Morey ever again, Harden was part of the team’s walkthrough and film session yesterday, and is expected to return to practice with the team on Tuesday.
This doesn’t sound like a player who has the upper hand.
Without Harden, Tyrese Maxey has assumed primary ballhandling duties and is thriving, averaging 30.3 points on 50% from the floor, and 56% from beyond the arc. He is second on the team in assists (6.3) to none other than Embiid.
The half-court offense running through Maxey is more fluid so far than when it ran through Harden. No longer are there possessions where four players stand sentry as Harden dribbles for 15-18 seconds before getting the ball in motion.
The reigning NBA MVP has picked up where he left off last season, averaging 31 points, 10.3 rebounds and seven assists.
Maybe Harden was hopeful that the Sixers would struggle out of the gate, inspiring Morey to begin working the phones to flip him for reinforcements. The team’s depth has been challenged early on, but the results have shown the team can not just survive, but prosper, without him.
So what’s Harden’s end game here? Morey shelved talks with the Clippers weeks ago, repeating his mantra that he has no obligation to move Harden, and that he won’t trade him to any team unless he gets value in return.
The very fact that there haven't even been rumors of other NBA teams contacting Morey in the months following his trade request should tell him everything. But for all Harden’s talents and gifts, self-awareness is not one that he has in abundance.
While Harden still brings something to the table to help a team, his biggest issue is that he thinks he’s still James Harden, top of the marquee NBA star. He is in search of a team with two characteristics: a team in title contention, and one that needs a ball-dominant scoring guard.
That Venn diagram is two circles separated by miles.
What Harden truly needs is something many NBA stars don’t have: someone in his camp who will tell him the unfiltered truth: he is still valuable, but he is no longer THAT GUY. Yes, he led the NBA in assists last season. He could probably do it again and again if he wanted to. But the one quality that would help Harden – and the Sixers franchise – in the short term is humility.
Come back, help the team win, and the rest will take care of itself. Or it won’t. But pouting and sitting on the sideline isn’t helping you. And it doesn’t really seem to be hurting the team.