The NBA is investigating the Sixers for guard James Harden‘s lack of availability for Thursday night’s game against the Bucks as it relates to the league’s new player participation policy, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). Harden returned to the 76ers on Wednesday after being away from the team for 10 days due to what he and the team described as a personal matter.
Wojnarowski adds in a follow-up tweet that because Philadelphia is playing a national television game against Milwaukee, the new player policy rules state the Sixers have to provide a valid reason for why Harden isn’t playing since he’s healthy and a recent All-Star (within the last three years).
“We’re looking into the facts around James Harden’s availability tonight to determine whether an approved reason exists for his lack of participation,” said NBA spokesman Mike Bass.
As Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets, a star player is excused for national TV games due to injury, personal reasons and rare or unusual circumstances. While Harden isn’t necessarily hurt, Marks points out that he probably isn’t in game shape since he hasn’t been with the team in 10 days and the team likely feels the same way.
In a separate but related story, Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report details Harden’s return to Philadelphia on Wednesday, which he says came as a surprise to Sixers officials. According to Haynes, Harden was approached by team officials, who told him it would be “beneficial” for him to remain in Philadelphia to continue to get re-acclimated with the team rather than travel for Philadelphia’s two-game road stretch to begin the season.
Harden interpreted the officials’ words as a suggestion, not a demand, according to Haynes, who writes the star guard traveled to the airport following practice to board the team flight, but was stopped by a security official who told him he wasn’t permitted to join the team.
The 10-time All-Star departed the airport frustrated by the incident, leading him and his camp to perceive the incident as the Sixers trying to remove a potential distraction, while the club insists it’s prioritizing his ramp-up to play, Haynes writes.
Harden’s trade request hasn’t wavered, according to Haynes, though reports surfaced Wednesday that the Clippers were pausing their pursuits of the star guard. Philadelphia officials are holding out hope the situation will become manageable, but it’s important to keep an eye on how this situation affects both star center Joel Embiid and coach Nick Nurse, Haynes writes. For what it’s worth, Haynes notes rival teams are monitoring how much Embiid is willing to endure.
Even though teammates and coaches described Harden as handling the situation professionally before his absence, the saga is already creating a distraction on the outside looking in, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscriber link). Despite that, Nurse is attempting to keep his team focused, Pompey writes. The head coach said he hasn’t seen his team distracted by the situation, Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweets.
“My concerns right now are really going to be focused on the game [Thursday] night,” Nurse said. “We put a lot into this, and we’re in a great space I think mentally and preparation-wise, all that stuff. That’s what I’ll continue to do.“