Sixers’ Daryl Morey Issues Cryptic Message on James Harden-Rockets Rumors

James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers

Getty President of basketball operations Daryl Morey.

The Philadelphia 76ers were able to land James Harden ahead of last season’s trade deadline thanks in no small part to Harden’s connection with the front office. Well, one person in the front office, Daryl Morey.

Harden and Morey’s connection goes back to their days with the Houston Rockets, where the player collected an MVP award and the GM put together a series of perpetually competitive teams, though none were able to get over the zenith of the Golden State Warriors during the mid-to-late 2010s.

Morey’s relationship with Harden also is likely why the player took a pay cut this season, with an option this summer. Should Harden opt out, he stands to earn a significant payday. But which team underwrites that check remains to be seen.

Recently, whispers of a Harden reunion with the Rockets have reached a crescendo. Initially reported by Adrian Wojnarowski on Christmas Day, new reports suggest, in the words of Rockets beat reporter Kelly Iko, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Last week, Morey went on Sportscenter to give his take on the situation.

“I know he’s just focused on this season and not the offseason, but I know that he’s focused on winning the championship,” Morey explained. “He’s gonna be wherever he feels like he has the best chance. Obviously, his pairing with (Joel) Embiid is very, very good and we feel like it’s a great pairing for the long term.”

Morey’s statement at first appears typical. The front office “feels” like it’s a great pairing. Harden is “focused on winning a championship.”

But Morey didn’t go so far as to assert that Harden was happy playing with Joel Embiid. In fact, Morey did the opposite. Harden “playing wherever he feels like he has the best chance” can’t be music to Sixers fans’ ears, especially given Philadelphia’s urgency this season.

Harden Could Leave if Sixers Crash

The Sixers enter the post-All-Star stretch as one of the most urgent in professional basketball.

Philadelphia has yet to make a conference final in the Embiid Era, continually falling short of expectations despite rosters that have included Ben Simmons (the former top-pick and Magic Johnson lookalike, not the imposter who lost his rotation spot with the Brooklyn Nets), Jimmy Butler, and Al Horford.

This season, the Sixers have arguably the best roster of Embiid’s Sixers tenure. But will it be enough? ESPN’s Zach Lowe summed up the Sixers’ situation well in last week’s column.

“There hasn’t been enough discussion of what the Sixers have riding on the next few months,” Lowe wrote. “They have not been to the conference finals in 22 years. They dodged the thorny sides of the bracket in each of the last two seasons, and still crumbled in the second round. Harden can enter free agency this summer. The Sixers (as of now) would not have cap space to replace him.”

The Rockets, on the other hand, have plenty of cash to throw Harden’s way. After spending the last three seasons wandering the wilderness, the Rockets have something resembling a young core in Tari Eason, Jalen Green, Jabari Smith, and Alperen Sengun.

If the Sixers flame out this season, what’s to stop Harden from linking up with a younger team that is starved for playmaking (Houston is 29th in assists this season)?

Another thought to ponder: what happens to Embiid?

Could Embiid Request a Trade from Sixers?

If the Sixers were to flame out this season, The Ringer’s Michael Pina predicted what could be a doomsday scenario for Philadelphia.

“After a playoff flameout in Round 1, the Sixers will be in shambles,” Pina began. “Harden will sign with the Rockets, and Embiid will ask out. But, just as Brooklyn managed with Durant, Philadelphia won’t deal its perennial MVP candidate and the chaos will eventually blow over, with Embiid remaining on the only team he’s ever played for. (Bonus prediction: Embiid will not be an All-Star starter.)”

Think of it this way: it’s one thing for Ben Simmons to sit out. It’s another thing altogether for the Sixers to dump out of the postseason with an expensive roster built entirely for playoff basketball.

It’s only to fair to wonder how much longer Embiid will take in Philadelphia, when greener pastures (or oakier hardwoods?) could await elsewhere.

Read More