76ers face an uncertain future with Harden and Harris deals up in the air

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden might have side-eyed questions, much like he did in a playful reaction to a question in his Houston days, about his future with the Philadelphia 76ers. (AP file photo)
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Updated 28 June 2023
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76ers face an uncertain future with Harden and Harris deals up in the air

  • Stuck in the muck of salary cap restrictions, the 76ers have few real options to replace Harden should he sign elsewhere
  • Harris has the all-important expiring contract that the 76ers can dangle as trade bait

PHILADELPHIA: James Harden might have side-eyed questions this week — much like he did in a playful reaction in his Houston days — about his future with the Philadelphia 76ers.

But the issue is real in Philly: Will Harden return to the 76ers for a third season?

All signs point to Harden declining his $35.6 million option on Thursday and entering this summer as an unrestricted free agent. That leaves the 2018 NBA MVP and 10-time All-Star free to sign with any team.

A return to the Rockets? Perhaps, if he prioritizes cash over a championship chase. The 76ers? Depends. Does Harden really enjoy playing as the second option to NBA MVP Joel Embiid?

Plan C?

Harden might not have planned much beyond a potential Houston reunion or Sixers return. Philadelphia has the home-contract edge: The 76ers have the right to offer Harden a $210 million, four-year deal, $8 million more overall than any other team.

Houston, though, where Harden blossomed into a surefire Hall of Famer is a city that still tugs at his heart.

Nick Nurse, hired earlier this month to replace Doc Rivers as coach of the 76ers, wants a shot at coaching Harden.

“James has a decision to make, and I’d be very happy if he came back,” Nurse said when he was hired.

Tobias Harris, himself in a bit of a contract quandary this summer, also stumped for a Harden return as he grabbed rebounds and posed for selfies with children Tuesday at a Fanatics promotion.

“There’s not many guys that can go out and drop 40 in a playoff game. I think that goes under the radar a little bit too much,” Harris said. “I think James is a phenomenal player, somebody who works his tail off, and somebody’s who’s an overall great leader. Of course I want him back.”

Harden, who turns 34 in August, played the last few months with nagging left Achilles soreness and flashed only glimpses of his Houston prime. He scored 45 points in Game 1 and 42 in Game 4 victories of the Eastern Conference semifinal loss against Boston, and was 0 for 6 on 3s in Game 2 and Game 6 losses. He scored only nine points in Game 7, and that included going scoreless in the second half.

Stuck in the muck of salary cap restrictions, the 76ers have few real options to replace Harden should he sign elsewhere. Not only that, the Sixers are fielding trade offers for Harris, who enters the final season of a $180-million, five-year contract. Harris averaged 14.7 points last season, well behind NBA scoring champ Embiid, Harden and Tyrese Maxey.

Torrel Harris, Tobias Harris’ father and agent, blasted the way the 76ers have used Harris since 2018 and said on the “Business of Sports” podcast his son was an “assassin scorer.”

“I mean, they can’t stop him,” Torrel Harris said on the podcast. “Nobody in the league can stop him. So he’s proven that over his career, even when he was with the Clippers.”

Harris has the all-important expiring contract that the 76ers can dangle as trade bait. While his dad believed Harris is still a prime scorer, the 76ers forward wants to put a freeze on public negotiations.

“When I’m a father, I’m going to tell my kid he’s better than LeBron James,” Harris said. “But I’ve also told him as a dad and agent, not to speak for me when it comes to the media. Obviously, he has his viewpoint on that. But that’s not the way I feel. I knew going into last year what my role was and I was going to be the fourth option offensively. I knew that going in.”

Harris said he was “OK” with that role and knew if the 76ers were going to win a championship, he would be the player to “sacrifice from that group.”

Sometimes, the dip in production meant a dip in popularity.

“Trade speculation, casual Sixers fans, they would trade me for a Crumbl Cookie,” he said.

The cookie certainly crumbled for the Sixers for the playoffs, where they were eliminated in the second round for the third straight season. The early exit for a team that won 54 games marked 22 seasons since the franchise reached the Eastern Conference finals. It cost Rivers his job.

It’s up to Nurse, who won a championship with Toronto in 2019, to find a formula that can win the 76ers a championship.

With or without Harden and Harris.

“I believe we have the right talent to be a championship team,” Harris said. “We have the right pieces and the right culture. With a new coach, I’m excited with what we can bring to the table.”

Harris and Embiid — who declined to talk about the Fanatics’ goodwill merchandise promotion for underserved kids — helped with the giveaway of 300,000 pieces of merch donated to around 100,000 kids and their families in nearly 100 different locations across the country.

Michael Rubin, CEO of Fanatics, also co-founded the Reform Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to probation, parole and sentencing reform in the United State. He once had an ownership stake in the 76ers, is a friend with Harden and tried not to pick a side on the contract issue.

So, should a 76ers fan buy in good faith a Harden 76ers jersey?

“I’d always tell them to buy a 76ers Harden jersey,” he said. “Look, I haven’t been close to the situation. Both the Sixers and James are family to me. But listen, I believe in these guys.”


Beijing half marathon top three stripped of medals: organizers

Updated 17 sec ago
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Beijing half marathon top three stripped of medals: organizers

  • Race’s bizarre finish saw China’s He Jie cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win
BEIJING: The top three in Sunday’s Beijing half marathon have been stripped of their medals, organizers said, following an investigation into the finish that saw China’s He Jie controversially win.
“Today the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee issued a decision on the investigation and handling of the men’s race results,” a state media report said Friday.
It added: “The trophies, medals and bonuses will be recovered.”
The race’s bizarre finish saw He cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win.
He, the 2023 Asian Games marathon gold medallist, won by one second after his supposed rivals appeared to slow down toward the finish and waved him out in front.
All four were “punished” and their results canceled, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The Chinese Athletics Association said earlier this week they had met, issuing a statement vowing to make improvements to the sport in the country.

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

Updated 54 min 10 sec ago
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Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

  • South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries, have not faced off in Test since 2007
  • They play only occasionally in shorter versions of game usually on neutral territory 

NEW DELHI: India captain Rohit Sharma has thrown his support behind any resumption of Test cricket against arch-rivals Pakistan, saying it would be “awesome.”
The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game and usually on neutral territory in international tournaments.
Rohit appeared Thursday on a YouTube chat show hosted by former captains Adam Gilchrist of Australia and Michael Vaughan of England.
Asked by Vaughan if playing Pakistan in a Test series would be beneficial for the five-day game, Rohit said: “I totally believe that.”
“They are a good team, superb bowling line-up, good contest. Especially if you play in overseas conditions, that will be awesome,” added the 36-year-old.
“I would love to. It would be a great contest between two sides... so why not?“
Australia has said it would be prepared to host a series between the rivals.
India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.
India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka.
They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.


Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Updated 19 April 2024
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Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

Saudi Arabia return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Updated 19 April 2024
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Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”


Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Updated 19 April 2024
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Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.