The wildest story in basketball took another twist when Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden insinuated he'd rather play in China than in the NBA. Harden made these comments during the same trip to China where he called Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey "a liar" and said he'd never play for a team where Morey is employed.
“Every time I come here, the love is just like ... it’s crazy, you know what I mean?” Harden said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “So I feel like they deserve to actually see me come play here. ... Love is always crazy here.”
Harden's first comments were an interesting attempt by the veteran to gain leverage after Philadelphia ended trade talks this week. Harden requested a trade in June and preferred to join the Los Angeles Clippers.
The issues for Harden leaving the NBA for China are twofold:
1) The Sixers are under no obligation to trade Harden after he picked up his $35.6 million player option
2) A section of the NBA collective bargaining agreement would bar him from signing with another professional basketball team — like one in China — if he does not fulfill his contract, and the Sixers don't allow him to walk away.
The “Withholding Services” section of the CBA specifically reads: “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 agrees otherwise" if a player were to hold out.
Morey reportedly won't trade Harden unless he gets a good deal, and the guard could be subject to a litany of other fines and suspensions by the league if he doesn't report to the Sixers or continues to make inflammatory remarks about his situation in Philadelphia.
And the "love" Harden talked about during his visit to China? Perhaps it's the huge crowds he drew during his events in the country. Or the 10,000 bottles of his wine that sold within seconds during a livestream with a Chinese social media influencer. Basketball is also an incredibly popular sport in the country, and China hasn't really had a star in its ranks since Stephon Marbury left in 2017 and Hall-of-Famer Yao Ming retired from the NBA in 2011.
Harden would certainly eclipse Marbury in terms of celebrity — he's a 10-time All-Star, six-time NBA first-team and won MVP in 2018 — but the chances he's able to suit up for a Chinese team are extremely low unless the 76ers allow him to leave.