James Harden is back with the Philadelphia 76ers, for now.
The 10-time All-Star returned to Sixers’ facility Wednesday ahead of the team’s practice and flight to their opening night matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, according to multiple reports.
Harden will not play in the opener, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes later reported. While the guard was reportedly packed and prepared to travel to the game, the 76ers’ coaching staff decided to keep him in Philadelphia to make up for lost time.
He also missed practice Oct. 18 while he was in Houston, sources told Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill and Jake Fischer.
The 34-year-old was out for even longer than that, spending the last 10 days away from the team, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
“Maybe he had something to do,” reigning league MVP Joel Embiid told reporters when asked about Harden’s absence last week.
Harden has been maneuvering to get out of Philly since this summer, when his feud with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey reached a breaking point.
Right after Harden picked up his $35.6 million player option, he reportedly demanded a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. But after Harden committed to the Sixers for the 2023-24 season, he lost his leverage. Morey is under no obligation to trade him, leaving Harden with limited alternatives.
Holding out is an expensive process that could even jeopardize his free-agent status next year. So Harden turned to other tactics. During a trip to China in August, Harden told a group of schoolchildren that “Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.” The NBA fined Harden $100,000 for his comments, the maximum fine it can give.
After skipping media day, Harden showed up on the second day of 76ers training camp and disappeared from the court before reporters showed up.
Last week, Harden seemed ready to focus on basketball. While asserting his relationship with Morey couldn’t be repaired, he said he would continue to “work [his] butt off” while with the team.
Philadelphia’s road trip to Milwaukee is coupled with a visit to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. Harden will reportedly take all that time to ramp up, and the 76ers will hope to have him ready as soon as possible.
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