Courtesy of Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report
Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden showed up to the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, on Wednesday, much to the team’s surprise. He had been away for the prior 10 days to tend to a personal matter—an excused absence.
During a light shooting session, Harden was approached by team officials.
He was told it would be beneficial for him to remain in Philadelphia to continue the ramp-up process as opposed to going with the team on their two-game road trip starting with the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, league sources tell Bleacher Report.
Harden had returned with the intention of reacclimating himself with the team, knowing assistant coach Rico Hines—his primary workout trainer—would be traveling along with the rest of the supporting staff, sources say.
Initially, staying back was interpreted as a suggestion rather than a mandate, sources say. Harden proceeded to participate in portions of the session with the intention of joining the the team on the flight to Milwaukee that afternoon.
After practice, Harden arrived at the fixed-base operator airport to board the team flight, but he was stopped by a security official who notified him that he was not permitted to accompany the team, sources say.
General manager Elton Brand and head coach Nick Nurse spoke to Harden to explain that the organization prefers he accepts and follows their workout plan, which includes staying at the practice facility while the team is away, sources say.
It was expounded that the workout program includes monitoring his measurables and speed with their tracking system, which is located at the facility. The Sixers’ two-way players would also be staying back in Philadelphia with Harden, as well as a trainer with whom he regularly works.
Harden, frustrated, departed the airport without further incident, sources say.
The Sixers maintain that Harden’s ramp-up is the priority, while Harden’s camp believes the priority is to eliminate a perceived potential distraction as the team opens with a tough two-game road trip.
If he’s with the team, Nurse and teammates would likely have to field ample Harden-related questions on the day of the game.
Also, Harden would be required to sit on the bench during the game, as star players who are not playing are now required to be visibly present for fans.
Franchise star Joel Embiid has experienced a fair share of upheaval with the Sixers. Rival teams are keeping a close eye on how much more he’s willing to endure.
Nurse’s message to the team throughout the preseason has been to focus on who is there in the moment.
Harden has not been fined by the team for any of his absences with the Sixers, sources say.
But teammates publicly and privately have lauded his professionalism and stated he appears to be in great shape.
In the offseason, Harden rented a house for nearly a month in a resort area of Aspen, Colorado, for an offseason boot camp, sources say. The high altitude made for rigorous training sessions. He worked out multiple times a day during the entirety of his 27-day occupancy.
His contingent consisted of a rotating personnel of 12 essential individuals, including basketball trainers, fitness specialists, nutritionists and chefs.
Harden yearns to help a team compete for a championship, but the 10-time All-Star has not wavered from wanting out of Philadelphia, sources say.
The future Hall of Famer is fixated on proving he’s still one of the greats in the league, and he’s approaching key milestones en route.
He’s 5,307 points shy of joining the 30,000-point club and is 220 triples away from surpassing Ray Allen for No. 2 all-time in three-pointers made.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia continues to hold out hope that the situation will at least become manageable.
The fractured relationship between Harden and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has caused a disturbance the team is forced to navigate.
Just how long Embiid and Nurse are willing to tolerate the ordeal remains to be seen.