James Harden has been pushing for a trade since July, and at no point this offseason has he rescinded that request. In fact, he doubled down in August, when Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey "a liar" and claimed he would "never be a part of an organization that he's a part of." On Wednesday, however, Harden was the one who ultimately proved untruthful as he reported to 76ers training camp in Fort Collins, Colorado, and took part in his first practice of the season for Morey's 76ers. By all accounts, Harden was perfectly professional.
"He's here and his attitude and energy today allowed everybody to understand that he wants to go out there and compete with us," teammate Tobias Harris said. Head coach Nick Nurse said that Harden was "great" and that he was "preaching hard work, discipline and accountability." It was a surprisingly uneventful first practice for a player with a history of causing trouble when he wants a move.
Harden infamously showed up to camp for the 2020-21 Houston Rockets late and out of shape. Most of the images that circulated from Sixers camp on Wednesday showed Harden to be in reasonable condition. His effort seemingly waned in his final days with the Brooklyn Nets, culminating in a four-point performance against the Sacramento Kings in his final game with the team. If his effort was a problem on Wednesday, his teammates certainly didn't share it. Those expecting the sort of training camp antics that ultimately preceded Jimmy Butler's 2018 trade left Wednesday disappointed.
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In truth, that was always the likeliest option. It made sense for Harden to make threats during the offseason because doing so was his best chance of convincing the 76ers to trade him. Once camp arrived, however, Harden's reputation was on the line. If he caused more problems for yet another team, it could scare potentially interested parties away. After all, Harden forced his way out of Houston and Brooklyn. If he does it in Philadelphia as well, what's to stop him from doing it to another team? For the time being, cooperating is in Harden's best interests.
His long-term goal of forcing a trade remains. His fractured relationship with Morey matters, but it is also into get moved to a team interested in using his Bird Rights to re-sign him. Once a player has asked for a trade, he usually gets it. There may not be enough interested parties to push a deal across the finish line now, but if Harden maintains his All-Star-caliber play into the season, someone will inevitably take a chance on him. If his actions Wednesday are any indication, that is what he is betting on right now.