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Give James Harden this much credit. He does tone deafness as well as he once played basketball.

On Monday, at an Adidas event in China, Harden crossed a particular rubicon in his summer-long simmering battle with the Philadelphia 76ers over his desire to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.

He went from things being strictly business to very, very personal.

"Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he's a part of," he said, microphone in hand and his audience clearly intended to be well beyond that gym on the other side of the world. "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."

That's all well and good to say. But reality – especially Harden's — offers some clear takeaways, and none are good for the faded, disgruntled former MVP.

That Harden isn't used to people telling him no after growing accustomed to forcing his way to where he exactly wants to go. That Harden thinks contracts are a one-way street. And that Harden, who turns 34 later this month, misunderstands his value and his place in the game.

Let's start with the rank hypocrisy of it all, this notion from Harden that Morey, or any other front-office figure running an NBA team, owes him anything beyond the words on his contract. It's impossible to know if Morey lied to Harden about something big or small — Philly sources insist unequivocally he did not — but it doesn't actually matter.

This is why teams and players enter into contracts: To be sure that what is agreed upon is certain, not up for debate, and not something that can be quibbled over later, when things don't go to plan, people get angry, or minds change.

Remember: Harden opted into his $35.6 million player option earlier this summer. He had a clear path forward if he wanted to play somewhere else — like the Clippers — without having to worry about the Sixers' view of things. But Harden wanted to have his cake, eat it, too, and get paid well beyond his market value.

It's not the Sixers fault that Harden misread his value on the market. That's a stark irony here — the fact that it's Philadelphia that values — or did – Harden as much or more than any other team in the league. Only three teams were willing to engage in serious talks with the Sixers about Harden, and none valued him as highly as Philly did. 

That's a Harden problem, not a Morey problem. That's about a former superstar thinking the rules should bend to his will — long after he's lost his ability to make the game do so — not about some supposed lie.

Embedded in this story, sparked by the Sixers decision to pull back from trade talks after being unable to find a deal they believe will work for them, is a new pattern emerging across the league: One in which general managers may stop acquiescing to star players who demand to leave to the team of their choice while under contract without the right price coming back in return.

It's playing out, under different circumstances, in Portland, where GM Joe Cronin has held firm in the face of star Damian Lillard wanting to go to the Miami Heat and only the Miami Heat. 

Enough people in Cronin and Morey's shoes have taken note of places like Brooklyn, where giving in to stars' trade demands — ironically, including Harden's in 2022 — has only left wreckage for teams and the careers of some who had the misfortune to be collateral damage.

"The history of All-Star players moving on when they're unhappy is 80-90% bad for the teams trading them," one GM told CBS sports. "There is a shift in thinking."

Which brings us to this latest impasse, and Harden's utter tone deafness. 

There are several things he, or his agent, seem not to grasp, including:

  • That there is not a robust market for his services, and certainly not at the price Philly wants in return.
  • That after forcing his way out of two other teams, and trying to do so now with a third, there is hesitation about just what you're buying if you bring him in.
  • That in Philadelphia, the Sixers believe that trading Harden for too little in return is nearly the same as him sitting out — only, if he sits out, there's always the chance he returns. A trade, once done, is final.
  • And that Philly currently plans to call his bluff, or accept his tantrum, bring him to camp, and dare him to be the first player in memory who has attempted this move while on the last year of a deal.

The Sixers can't force a trade that works for them, any more than the Trail Blazers can do so with Lillard. But they can stand pat, not swerve, and operate in the best interests of their team — and the fear any GM should have of giving away value without getting enough in return.

If that wasn't enough, Harden also went after a GM that once was his friend — in personal, bruising, and surprising terms. Harden may have felt justified in doing it, but there's a reason the Godfather advised against the personal: It's bad business.

And the Beard, having ignored that advice, may have only hardened the resolve of an organization now utterly disinterested in doing him any favors.