James Harden keeps bringing the drama – Orange County Register

If you were sad to see “Succession” end or you’re a big fan of “Billions” or any of those popular TV shows about power and riches, I’m going to assume you’re also into the NBA.

You might not even like basketball, but drama and deceit? Cockamamie negotiating ploys and slow-simmering character arcs? Lavish lifestyles and epic power struggles? You love that game.

Imagine how this week’s episode guide would read for the long-running satirical comedy-drama “The NBA.”

S15 E8 “China”

After news leaks that the Philadelphia 76ers plan to shut down trade talks for James, he tries a new tactic, seeking to exert leverage overseas by publicly disparaging Daryl in a country where he’s already massively unpopular. At home, the Clippers quietly assess their options.

We’d totally watch that, wouldn’t we?

I mean, we are.

We woke up Monday morning to see the latest episode streaming everywhere: After multiple outlets reported Saturday that, according to loud-whispering sources, the Sixers were ending trade talks for James Harden, he slammed Daryl Morey in China – where Morey stirred massive backlash in 2021 for publicly supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

“Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of,” said Harden, his statement so provocative that people watching video of the exchange online thought they might be seeing an A.I. version of the player reciting machine-fed lines.

But no, this was Harden, who for dramatic effect, reiterated: “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.”

And that’s how this episode ended, with a cliffhanger. To be continued.

Tune in soon to see if Harden, an Artesia High alumnus, finds more creative ways to slander Morey. Or if he even shows up to 76ers training camp – and, if he does, whether it’s a spectacle like in 2020. Remember that episode, when he arrived in Houston looking like he’s wearing an inner tube under his jersey – and only after a detour that included stops at Lil Baby’s birthday bash in Atlanta and a Las Vegas nightclub?

Will the 10-time All-Star guard ignore team huddles like Ben Simmons was when he wanted out of Philadelphia in 2021? Will Harden forget how to dribble? Start inexplicably bricking shots? Make the 76ers wish he actually had stayed home?

Or will he really not show? Stay away for 30 days and dare Morey to enact the CBA’s “withholding services” clause, which to hear the experts like ESPN’s Bobby Marks tell it, can effectively retire Harden? It would be a nuclearly petty, if perfectly understandable option, because Harden’s salary cap hold will severely limit Philadelphia’s flexibility going forward.

Or will Harden’s story move to L.A. after all? This is the NBA, where amazing happens – but not without something happening.

Harden’s market is not what it was, and the Clippers – unlike those previous iterations of the Brooklyn Nets and 76ers – aren’t inclined to move mountains to acquire him. They won’t dream even of moving Terance Mann, their reliable team-first role player.

Harden is almost 34, and only 12 other active players have logged more games than him. He went for 45 points in Game 1 and 42 in Game 4 victories in the  second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Boston Celtics, but he went out with a whimper in Game 7, scoring only nine.

The Clippers, I assume, would like Harden, and they’d like to move on from Marcus Morris Sr. and maybe to get out of Norman Powell’s deal, which will pay the guard more than $57 million over the next three seasons.

But the 76ers don’t likely want to take that on either, just like the Clippers don’t need Harden. Especially if Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – and Russell Westbrook, back on a team-friendly deal to give the Clippers their True Point Guard™ – are healthy. And they certainly don’t need Harden’s headaches.

We might be seeing Harden push the envelope, but we’re not seeing him break character – this is the third time in three years he’s trying to force his way off a team.

Perhaps his motivation makes sense; even the most casual viewer could intuit that Harden would feel betrayed by the lack of a long-term max-level – max as in maximum, not Max as HBO now is called – contract offer after he’d signed on a two-year deal that was about $14.5 million, or 30% less last season, than he could have earned under his prior deal.

Harden’s motivation at the time, he said then, was to give the Sixers flexibility – and still, their season ended well short of a championship.

Still, Morey believes they can be a title contender again if Harden returns for his final season of his current deal to play alongside MVP center Joel Embiid. And they could be!

Harden doesn’t care. He seems only to want to come home to L.A., to play for the Clippers. And even if critics pan it, he isn’t afraid to run new plays to get there.

Don’t know if all this drama is enjoyable for Sixers fans or that it would be cool with Clippers’ faithful in a season or so. But for the rest of us on the edge of our seats waiting to see how it turns out, it’s a lot more fun than watching him draw free throws.

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