The NBA reportedly launched an investigation after Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden called the team's president of basketball operations Daryl Morey "a liar" in front of an audience at an event in China recently. Harden also said he would "never be a part of an organization that [Morey's] a part of."
As part of its investigation, the league has reportedly been given an explanation for those comments.
Harden exercised his $35.6 million option for the 2023-24 season in June. He told league investigators he made that decision because Morey told Harden he would trade Harden "quickly," according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. Now, the team is reportedly planning to retain Harden despite that promise.
Harden was reportedly under the impression Morey would help him move on to the Los Angeles Clippers. Both parties reportedly engaged in talks, but a deal never materialized, per ESPN.
The league's investigation was first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, who said the probe is primarily focused on determining whether Harden's 2023-24 holdout threat had anything to do with attempts at salary cap circumvention by the 76ers. There has been no reporting to suggest Philadelphia made an improper agreement with Harden regarding a future contract.
When Harden came back from China, he doubled down by answering "I think so" when KHOU 11's Jason Bristol asked if his relationship with the 76ers was beyond repair. He added he's "been patient all summer."
With the 76ers ceasing trade discussions, Harden doesn't seem to have much leverage, especially because Morey's words and past actions show he's not likely to be pressured into a deal. Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill reported Morey "is coveting future first-round draft picks" in a deal and "Morey is believed to want those more than the productivity of [Clippers guard Terance] Mann — who’s on an affordable number the next two years ($10.5 million in ’23-24, $11.4 million in ’24-25)."
When Ben Simmons didn't want to play in Philadelphia, Morey kept him for most of the 2021-22 season until he could make a trade with the Brooklyn Nets for Harden.
Harden is set to turn 34 this month and reportedly plans to report to Philadelphia's training camp in October. But with his ugly 2021 exit from the Houston Rockets as the precedent, Harden seems likely to continue to make his displeasure known.