James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers added another wrinkle to their messy relationship when the team told the disgruntled guard to stay home instead of traveling for Thursday’s season opener against Milwaukee.
Harden — who issued an offseason trade demand — did not play in the preseason and skipped practice last week for what was officially called a personal matter before he showed up Wednesday at the team’s complex in Camden, New Jersey, ready to play.
Coach Nick Nurse said he was told Tuesday night that Harden had arrived in town. Nurse said Harden was involved in practice early and late but not in the game preparation part for the Bucks.
The opening matchup pits NBA MVP and two-time scoring champion Joel Embiid against Milwaukee’s two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo signed a three-year, $186 million extension this week with the Bucks.
“We have to get ready for our game tomorrow with the guys that are going to be playing,” Nurse told reporters. “He’s been gone 10 days so we are in ramp-up phase again. He will stay here and get on-court work with our staff and with our players from the (G League) and our two-way guys and things like that and try and get him ramped up as soon as we can.”
Nurse said Harden was “fine” with the decision. Part of Harden’s complaint stems from his belief he should have earned a long-term contract with the Sixers after last season. It never came, thus he picked up the option on his contract for this season with the expectation the 76ers would trade him. That never materialized.
The 76ers play Saturday at Toronto, the team Nurse led to the 2019 NBA championship, and play their home opener Sunday against Portland.
Nurse, in his first season in Philly, declined to commit to Harden playing in any of those games.
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“We are probably going to have to evaluate this in the next couple of sessions,” Nurse said. “We just need to see what the information tells us in two days.”
Harden was a late arrival to training camp and continued to practice with the 76ers early last month in the wake of the trade demand. Harden said the lone time he spoke at practice that his fractured relationship with team president Daryl Morey could not be repaired — comparing it to a broken marriage — and said over the summer that he could not play for the 76ers.
“My concerns right now are really going to be focused on the game tomorrow night,” Nurse said. “That’s what I’ll continue to do. If there are any concerns, if and when they arise, then we’ll handle them. I really think our guys they’re not very affected by it.”