James Harden-76ers trade saga timeline: How NBA star, Daryl Morey’s relationship unraveled

May 7, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) against the Boston Celtics during game four of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
By Alex Andrejev
Sep. 18, 2023

James Harden is no stranger to dramatic moves, but his attempted exit from the Philadelphia 76ers might be his most contentious trade saga yet as it remains a key storyline of the NBA offseason. Tensions between Harden and the team seemed to reach a boiling point in August when the 10-time NBA All-Star pointedly called Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey a “liar” while speaking at a marketing event in China.

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The NBA subsequently launched an inquiry into Harden’s comments — which he said referred to Morey saying Harden would be traded “quickly” — and fined the player $100,000 for his public trade demands. In turn, the National Basketball Players Association said it would file a grievance regarding the discipline.

That’s the latest on where things stand between Harden and the 76ers as an awkward training camp looms in early October. But what led to the relationship breakdown between Philadelphia and its star guard? Here’s a timeline of the events.

July 8, 2022: Harden agrees to take $15 million pay cut

Coming off the Sixers’ 2021-22 campaign — which saw Harden join Philadelphia in a blockbuster deal that sent Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets — Harden agrees to take a $15 million pay cut for the 2022-23 season and signs with the team on a new two-year deal that includes a player option in the second year.

Harden opted out of his $47.4 million player option the week prior to return to the Sixers on a contract that would give the team financial flexibility to bolster its roster. (The franchise was focused on a championship run in 2023 after falling in the 2022 Eastern Conference semifinals to the Miami Heat.) Harden’s close relationship with Morey helped in reaching that deal, and many presumed the Sixers would reward Harden with a handsome contract the following offseason.

June 29, 2023: Harden opts in for 2023 to work toward trade

Fast forward a year and the relationship sours. Harden opts into his $35.6 million deal for the 2023-24 season to work with the 76ers on a trade out of Philadelphia, The Athletic reported. The organization discusses deals for Harden with the LA Clippers being his preferred destination. The Sixers make it clear throughout the process that the franchise did not see a long-term future with the guard, league sources said.

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The Athletic also reported that Harden was extremely upset at how the Sixers handled his possible free agency, and made his dissatisfaction clear to the organization.

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Why James Harden's reunion with Daryl Morey in Philadelphia went south

July 18, 2023: Sixers need right return for Harden, Morey says

Morey says in a local radio interview that he is trying to honor Harden’s trade request, but adds, “If we don’t get either a very good player or something that we can turn into a very good player, then we’re just not going to do it.”

“The reality is that if we do look at a trade, it’s going to be for one of two things,” Morey says. “It’s either going to be for a player who continues to help us be right there like we were last year, up 3-2 on one of the best teams in the East, the Celtics. Obviously, we didn’t get it done but James was a big part of why we got it to 3-2. Or we’re going to do it for something where we get enough draft picks and things like that in a deal, such that we can then turn those into a player who can be a running mate with Joel (Embiid), as well.”

In discussing Harden’s reasoning for wanting out, Morey said Harden is wishing for a different contract situation.

“If we can do something that is win-win, helps the Sixers, then we will look at it,” Morey says. “If we can’t, then we won’t.”

Daryl Morey and James Harden speak to the media during a news conference in February 2022 at the 76ers training complex in Camden, N.J. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)

Aug. 12, 2023: 76ers end Harden trade talks

The Sixers decide to end trade talks on Harden, planning for him to be in their upcoming training camp. However, a source close to Harden reiterates that the former MVP no longer wants to play for Philadelphia and has no plans to take part in camp. Harden’s side expressed a belief that there would be meaningful developments regarding a trade before then.

Aug. 14, 2023: Harden calls Morey “a liar”

A couple of days after Philadelphia ended its trade talks, Harden blasts Morey while speaking at an event in China as part of a marketing tour for Adidas.

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“Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of,” Harden tells a crowd, in front of numerous cameras. “Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.”

Harden doubled down on the sentiment a few days later in an interview with KHOU 11 News Houston, telling the outlet that he believes his relationship with Morey and the 76ers “is beyond repair.”

Aug. 19, 2023: NBA launches probe into Harden’s comments on Morey

The NBA launches an inquiry surrounding Harden’s comments about Morey. Harden tells league investigators he was referring to Morey telling Harden he would trade him “quickly” following the $35.6 million opt-in for the 2023-24 season.

76ers owner Josh Harris said he was working to convince Harden to remain in Philadelphia but was willing to “accommodate what he wants” if he and the team don’t get Harden to rescind his trade request to the Clippers.

“Listen, we’re hard at work,” Harris said before the Washington Commanders-Baltimore Ravens preseason game on Aug. 21. “I respect James. I want to, obviously, accommodate what he wants. At the same time, I have to think about a championship-contending team, what we can get back. I’d love to convince him to stay. I understand that that’s not what he wants to do right now.

“I’m going to keep working to resolve it in a way that everyone can live with and is positive for everyone, whatever that resolution is. … I respect him as a basketball player, and as a person. It’s back to, these are, you’re dealing with people, right? And you’ve got to be there. We’ll see where it comes out.”

Aug. 22, 2023: NBA fines Harden for trade demands

The NBA fines Harden $100,000 for his public trade demands after the league’s investigation confirmed Harden’s comments on Aug. 14 and Aug. 17 referenced his belief that the 76ers would not trade him.

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According to Article VI, Section 18 of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, Harden broke the rules. The league could only prove it because of his admission during the investigation.

“Any player (or, for clarity, any player representative or person acting with authority on behalf of a player) who publicly expresses a desire to be traded to another Team shall be subject to a fine and/or a suspension. The maximum fine that may be imposed by the NBA on a player pursuant to the foregoing shall be $150,000.”

The National Basketball Players Association says later that day it intended to file a grievance regarding the NBA’s discipline and intends to have the matter heard by its arbitrator: “We respectfully disagree with the league’s decision to discipline James Harden for recent comments he made, which we believe do not violate the rule against public trade demands.”

Anthony Davis was fined $50,000 in 2019 when his agent, Rich Paul, publicly discussed his trade request in New Orleans, and Dewayne Dedmon was fined $50,000 for publicly discussing his trade request in Sacramento, serving as more recent examples of the rule.

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(Top photo of James Harden: Eric Hartline / USA Today)

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Alex Andrejev is a staff editor on the news team. Before joining The Athletic, she covered NASCAR and Charlotte FC for The Charlotte Observer and was a reporting intern on the sports desk for The Washington Post. She grew up near Washington, D.C.