Report: Several Sixers ‘expressed concerns’ over Harden last season

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, right, talks to James Harden during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

A recent report from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne took a deep dive into the ongoing drama between the Sixers and Harden. In it, the NBA Insider covered a multitude of topics, from new information about James Harden’s missing All-Star appearance to the powder keg that was the relationship between Harden and Doc Rivers and more.

Untold drama from the Sixers’ season

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 17: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21), Philadelphia 76ers Guard James Harden (1), Philadelphia 76ers Forward P.J. Tucker (17) and Philadelphia 76ers Forward Tobias Harris (12) huddle during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on January 17, 2023 at Arena in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

In those details regarding Rivers, Shelburne referenced a team meeting in which the then-Sixers head coach mentioned several players who voiced concerns regarding Harden, which only further widened the internal divide. In her piece, Shelburne detailed the events, saying:

“…Harden didn’t travel with the team to Miami, sources said. He traveled separately, with permission from the front office, to enjoy the nightlife. This is not uncommon in the NBA, or for Harden, but it didn’t sit well with Rivers and several players on the team, sources said.

Days later, Rivers brought it up in a team meeting, sources said, specifically mentioning several of the players who expressed concerns about Harden’s actions.

The whole episode was “uncomfortable,” one team source said. Even if they agreed with the substance of Rivers’ message to Harden, and the idea of holding him accountable, it was awkward for the players who were named.”

Did Rivers handle the situation correctly?

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers watches from the bench in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Now, it’s understandable for Rivers and the aforementioned Sixers to take issue with Harden’s decision. Despite the fact that Shelburne references Harden’s decision as “uncommon,” whether or not the subject is James Harden, considering the context, it’s not hard to see how it rubbed a few people the wrong way.

The Sixers had just come off of their second consecutive loss against a fellow Eastern Conference contender. What should have been a moment of unity was not primarily due to Harden’s travel separately. With that said, Harden is far from the only individual who made a questionable decision in this case.

Doc Rivers’ confronting Harden, not only in front of his teammates but also while naming the individuals who spoke up on the matter, was wildly irresponsible. It’s unclear what effect Rivers expected the meeting to have, but it’s clear that the message did not take. It only put more of a barrier between Harden and his coach, likely between his teammates as well.

Then there’s the matter of those who spoke to Rivers on the matter having to question whether or not they could continue to trust their own coach as the team approached the NBA playoffs.

Who spoke up? Does it even matter?

FILE – Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden reacts during Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, April 18, 2022, in Philadelphia. Harden appears determined to sever ties with the Philadelphia 76ers after the star guard called team president Daryl Morey a liar at a promotional event at China. Harden’s comments, video of which surfaced Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, came almost seven weeks after he picked up his $35.6 million option with the 76ers for this season and then promptly said he wanted to be traded.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

At this moment, it is uncertain which Sixers spoke to Rivers about this. While it would be reckless to speculate, it’s also important to understand that many of those same players likely remain with the team even now.

The Sixers did lose Georges Niang, Shake Milton, and Jalen McDaniels this past offseason, but by and large, every other player returned for the upcoming season. Is this why Harden is no longer interested in returning? No, at least not primarily, as his fractured relationship with Daryl Morey is well-documented. But it certainly stands to reason, if any of those teammates do remain, that Harden would not be thrilled by the idea of teaming up with them once again.

It seems nearly impossible that Harden would return to the Sixers at any point. This latest report may be the final nail in the coffin.