The offseason trade drama between the 76ers and James Harden has officially gotten nasty. Following a report that Philadelphia had shut down trade talks regarding the star guard around the league, Harden came out firing at GM Daryl Morey, calling the latter a “liar” and vowing to never play for a Morey-run team ever again.
Despite this surprisingly brash attempt to force his way out of another city, it appears Harden doesn’t have as much leverage in this scenario as he thinks.
In response to Harden’s comments, ESPN analyst Bobby Marks highlighted a key passage from the new CBA that pertains to player holdouts.
"Withholding services: A player who withholds playing services called for by a Player Contract for more than thirty (30) days after the start of the last Season covered by his Player Contract shall be deemed not to have “complet[ed] his Player Contract by rendering the playing services called for thereunder.” Accordingly, such a player shall not be a Veteran Free Agent and shall not be entitled to negotiate or sign a Player Contract with any other professional basketball team unless and until the Team for which the player last played expressly agreed otherwise."
This clause on “withholding services” aims to combat holdouts after the league has seen several in recent years (remember Ben Simmons?).
If a player “withholds playing services” outlined in their contract “for more than thirty days after the start of last season” the deal will be “deemed not to have ‘completed.'” If a situation is ruled this way, then the offending player cannot enter free agency or sign “with any other professional basketball team” unless their current NBA team has “expressly agreed otherwise.”
This right here is why Philadelphia has Harden in a bind. He’d be putting not just his NBA career in jeopardy, but his entire professional basketball career if he’s found to violate this holdout clause.
Now, there’s ways for the former MVP to get around it. He could show up and make things difficult for the 76ers by being a locker room distraction, or make non-winning plays on the court (or both).
Philly needs to contend to keep Joel Embiid happy, so Morey can’t afford any kind of disruption that gets in the way of the team’s championship dreams. This is where Harden still has some power in this situation. While his presence is required, he could make it so the Sixers are better with him gone (or at least on the bench as a DNP – coach’s decision) than around at all.
There’s also little reason for Philadelphia to try to mend this situation at this point. Harden has made his desire to be sent somewhere else abundantly clear. His latest comments push this into unsalvageable territory, and the 76ers would be smart to get rid of this distraction before the regular season rolls around.
How both sides proceed from here will be extremely interesting to watch. Will Harden show up to camp, possibly out of shape to hurt the team? Will the 76ers backtrack and reopen trade talks to make a deal before the preseason ends? Hopefully this drama can find a resolution soon before it threatens to upend a potential Finals run.
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