James Harden, against his wishes, remains with the Philadelphia 76ers. He very badly wants to be traded from the Sixers to the Los Angeles Clippers, but the teams have not come to an agreement on a deal. The standoff between the two teams is being put on pause. Now, Harden and the Sixers get to focus on the one that only involves them.

Recent rumors say that Harden may now skip training camp, deviating from a previous expectation that he would show up, which was reported in July. The Sixers showing that they're willing to walk away from the negotiations may have tipped Harden off that he really may not get the trade he desires. For the time being, he's stuck in Philly on a one-year deal, and he could not be more clear about how unhappy he is about it:

If Harden really wants to try his best Ben Simmons impression and hold out indefinitely in an act of retaliation, then good luck. The Damian Lillard situation has nudged the league to be more prepared to punish players who don’t honor their contracts. There's also a CBA clause that would gunk up Harden's free agency next summer if he tries this funny business.

Harden has only the man in the mirror to blame for this dilemma. His choice to opt into his contract gave him a salary of $35.6 million, but it cost him true freedom for where to go. There were other ways to leave Philly besides making them do the work. He could have signaled a desire to play for the Clippers and let them dump contracts to open up signing space for him. Plenty of teams out there could have helped.

Or, if he really wanted to get out of Philly that badly, he could have signed a cheap deal worth somewhere in the single-digit millions. It would have been extremely drastic for Harden to complain about the Sixers not offering him a good enough deal only for him to take the $5 million MLE from LA. The point here is that Harden could have left the Sixers on his own accord.

Instead, Harden decided to take a route that landed him a more secure payday — a perfectly understandable decision, especially for someone who doesn’t have many more of those left — but ran the risk of landing him in the situation he's in now. Playing this stupid game has rewarded him with the stupidest of prizes. Only one question remains: since Philly isn’t likely to trade Harden without a massive change in his trade market, what happens now?

There is a case for keeping Harden and trying again to win with the best co-star Embiid has ever had. But there's also a stance that nothing good can come from keeping him.

The case for not trading James Harden

James Harden, Sixers, James Harden trade, Sixers trade

Live and breathe the NBA?

🚨 Get viral NBA graphics, memes, rumors and trending news delivered right to your inbox with the Clutch Newsletter.

At the end of the day, the Sixers are still situated very favorably in the grand scheme of things. Harden's talent is one of the reasons why.

The trio of Joel Embiid, Harden and Tyrese Maxey is one of the best in basketball. Nick Nurse, an upgrade at the head coach spot over Doc Rivers, is eager to help the team figure out how to break through. Under contract for this year and next is a decent supporting cast of P.J. Tucker, Paul Reed and Jaden Springer. De'Anthony Melton and Tobias Harris are fine players in their own rights, as well. Plus, a chunk of cap space awaits them next offseason.

Even with his best days long behind him, Harden is still one of the best offensive engines in the game. His playmaking is incredibly valuable to the Sixers, who otherwise lack elite passers. Even in an offense that had a tendency for getting pretty vanilla, Philly became an elite offense in the first full season of the EmBeard duo. If Nurse pushes the right buttons, it's possible they become even better.

If the Clippers aren’t going to offer a trade package that really helps the Sixers, why should they give up Harden? LA understandably isn’t pulling out all the stops to land an aging Harden on a one-year deal that they are negotiating for by themselves. Although he would be great alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they’re not looking to rush into a deal that comprises their depth and potentially what little youth they have.

Looking across the hardwood landscape, which team will end up yearning to make a huge trade for Harden? Perhaps some other interest will drive the price up. But based on his contract situation (and more factors to discuss later), the Sixers will probably have to settle for a trade they deem well below market value for Harden — one that nets a few decent players and maybe some okay draft picks. If that's the case, they might as well allow Embiid to pursue trades with other teams.

Trading Harden just to get rid of him may feel relieving in the interim. It will iron out the most frustrating wrinkle of a disappointing offseason. However, once the Sixers fail on consecutive possessions to get the ball to Embiid in the post or fail to assemble a good bench unit without Harden orchestrating everything, his value will be even more apparent. Philly really needs Harden — or at least someone else who can offer a similar level of on-court value.

The Sixers clearly think Harden will be able to pick up where he left off, and his agent is trying to build some hype by detailing the workouts he's doing with the goal of being in the best shape of his life. We'll need to see that to believe it, especially now after Harden's latest comments, but it was at least one sliver of positive info.

Realistically, the Sixers were not going to land anyone better than Harden this offseason. He shouldn’t be untouchable, but a trade involving him has to be worth it. That may be the most obvious line of thinking ever, but it's worth making abundantly clear. Harden could still be valuable for Philly and trading him must yield, as Daryl Morey previously said, a player who helps them win now or the materials to go get one.

The case against not trading James Harden

Last year's Harden is not on the table barring a change of heart from the veteran star. He will continue to decline with age and, as long as he's with the Sixers, will lack motivational fuel to propel forward. In case there was any doubt, the comments about Morey confirm it.

Harden found great success shooting from deep and led the league in assists in 2022-23, but he lacked the dynamic downhill drives to the basket that used to make defenders second- and third-guess themselves. Without Embiid there to set screens and draw defenders, Harden couldn’t consistently manufacture clean looks at the hoop. If you’re anticipating that Harden — who turns 34 years old in two weeks — will be as good as he was last year when playing for a Sixers team he is eager to leave, you may be interested in this bridge I'm selling.

And even with the upgrade Nurse will likely be over Rivers, this Sixers roster took a step back depth-wise. The first six in the rotation have stayed the same with the star trio, Harris, Tucker and Melton, plus Reed is still around. But with no clear-cut replacements for Georges Niang and Jalen McDaniels and the swap of Shake Milton for Patrick Beverley that may not result in any significant change, Philly is going to be extra reliant on its core players. It's the same race car heading back to the starting line but with a better driver, the same motor that just combusted down the home stretch and worse tires.

Lots of things could go right for the Sixers, and they still may not be able to overcome the Boston Celtics or Milwaukee Bucks. Philly squandered its best shot at the conference finals because its stars flopped in the biggest moments. Nurse may put better schemes around Harden and Embiid, but he is subject to the obvious obstacle that all coaches are: their confinement to the sideline.

Nurse is an intense, brilliant basketball mind, but no amount of rah-rah is guaranteed to make his stars meet the biggest moments with the urgency they require. Harden's history of playoff flameouts is long enough. Will this be the season he finally changes it? Will it really, after all this ongoing drama? And will his body, after suffering foot and Achilles injuries last year, be reliable to hold up?

Obviously, if there's no good trade at the moment, the Sixers should not just give Harden away. This is their last chance (aside from trying to get something for Maxey) to make a big move that gets them something they can use to build a title contender around Embiid. But that doesn’t mean that taking the trade route off the map is a good solution.

What sit-down with Harden could possibly convince him to give it his all for the franchise again? This is someone who is not prone to changing his mind when he's ready to move to a new team and, in his view, is feeling disrespected by the lack of a suitable long-term deal after taking a pay cut. Morey and team brass will have to cobble together a pitch for the ages.

The Sixers cannot afford to waste a season of Embiid's prime — following his very best season, no less — on a disgruntled star with a shaky playoff history. Morey must stay alert on any Harden deal and strike as soon as possible.

Verdict: Harden has to be traded

James Harden, James Harden trade, Sixers, Clippers

Harden can flip the discussion around his trade demand on his head by rescinding it and being willing to play for the Sixers. He has a sincerely good rapport with his team and now has a coach who, while not a perfect fit for his play style, he may like better than his previous one.

Any potential upside to keeping Harden can be knocked down by the doubt that he will be in the mindset to reach it, though, and that’s the reason why, at this point, the best path forward is to eventually trade him. Outright saying that Morey is a “liar” and that he will never partner with him again is proof his desire to get out of Philly is ironclad.

If a piece of evidence is out there that suggests Harden is ready to truly change his mind, I have not seen it. He no-showed training camp when he wanted to leave the Houston Rockets and sent soft signals throughout his last season with the Brooklyn Nets that he wanted to go. In both instances, Harden decided what he wanted and made it tough for his incumbent team to keep him.

The Sixers' situation is different from both, as they are neither at the very end of their window of playoff contention nor have a situation where one of their stars is playing half of the games due to noncompliance with local health mandates. Yet the difference in each scenario lends credence to the pattern of Harden being unwilling to budge on trade demands. He feels like he got betrayed by Morey, the front-office figure who has long sung his praises and twice made blockbuster trades to acquire him.

An unmotivated Harden is bound to be a net negative for the Sixers, who can’t afford to go on like this. Harden and Morey's relationship seems to be toast after Harden's recent comments, so Morey needs to make the breakup a reality, even though Harden's recent comments no doubt diminished his trade value. He has to put together the right trade package to salvage the value Harden has left.