James Harden is breaking up with the Philadelphia 76ers, but the divorce hasn’t become final yet. So the NBA is reportedly investigating why Harden didn’t play in the season opener vs. the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night.
Under new player participation rules, star players, defined as any player who has made an All-Star or All-NBA team in the last three seasons, must have an approved reason to miss nationally televised games.
Those reasons include injury, “personal reasons,” and “rare and unusual circumstances.” The NBA Board of Governors approved the new rules this year after the league believed that load management, which limits minutes and rests superstars to keep them healthy, had gone too far. The idea is to keep more of the league’s top stars on the court during high-profile games. Teams can be fined for violations starting at $100K, going up to a million dollars and more.
The rules also limit how many star players can be out of a game at any given time.
Harden has asked to be traded from the Sixers, citing a breakdown in trust between him and Sixers GM Daryl Morey, who he publicly called a liar. He didn’t play in the opener because the team decided he wasn’t in game shape, per ESPN. The beleaguered superstar has not practiced with the Sixers since Oct. 7 and was away from the team for 10 days in an excused absence for those ever-popular “personal” reasons.
“We are looking into the facts around James Harden’s availability tonight to determine whether an approved reason exists for his lack of participation,” NBA spokesman Michael Bass told ESPN.
Harden had the chance to become a free agent after last season, but picked up his $35.6M player option to remain with the Sixers, then demanded a trade to the Clippers. Months of talks broke off between the two teams, with the Clippers pulling themselves, at least for now, out of contention despite being the only team Harden wants to play for. Harden wanted to travel on the Sixers’ opening road trip to Toronto and Milwaukee, but it appears the team said no.
Players who have to show up and play without the abovementioned caveats are among the league’s most recognizable names, including Steph Curry, LeBron James, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Ja Morant and Devin Booker.
But there’s a special dispensation for players over 35 who have played more than 34,000 regular-season minutes or more than 1,000 regular season and playoff games if they started the season at age 35 or over. They can rest in back-to-back games without an injury if those absences are preapproved. Those seven players are Steph Curry, LeBron James, Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley, Kevin Durant, and wait for it….James Harden.
Watch more on the league’s new policy here.
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