James Harden returned to practice for the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday after a 10-day absence, but will not be joining them on their two-game road trip to open the 2023-24 NBA season.
Following practice, Harden arrived at the airport ready to join the team on its flight to Milwaukee ahead of Thursday's opener against the Bucks, but a security official denied him entry to the team's plane, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report.
Before arriving at the airport, Harden was told by team officials they preferred him to stay at home to continue working out.
"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 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."
Later Thursday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the NBA will investigate Harden's availability for the 76ers' season-opening road trip to "determine whether an approved reason exists for his lack of participation."
Do the 76ers want Harden to get 100% ready or do they really want to avoid any sort of distraction with having him on the road?
This all comes as the Los Angeles Clippers, Harden's preferred destination, have reportedly paused trade talks with the 76ers for the 10-time NBA All-Star and 2018 MVP after a roller-coaster summer that looked like a trade out of Philadelphia was inevitable.
Harden's offseason saw him pick up his $35.6 million player option with the expectation the 76ers would trade him. That never materialized and the team planned to bring him back for training camp. While at an event in China in August, he called president of basketball operations Daryl Morey a "liar," which led to a $100,000 fine from the league for "indicating that he would not perform the services called for under his player contract unless traded to another team."
Earlier this month, Harden said his relationship with Morey could not be salvaged.
"My whole thing was I wanted to retire a Sixer and the front office didn't have that in their future plans," he said.
Even with Harden staying home, his future with the franchise will be a daily topic of conversation until there is a resolution. There's no way for the team to avoid it.
Nurse, meanwhile, is just trying to worry about on-court matters for now.
“My concerns right now are really going to be focused on the game [Thursday] night. 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,” he said.
The 76ers' home opener is Sunday night when they host the Portland Trail Blazers.