Harden, Rockets Avoid Harsher Penalties

By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA reporter

James Harden got lucky. 

His punishment would’ve been much harsher if the Houston Rockets schedule had worked out differently. 

According to sources, in addition to being fined $50,000, Harden will have to serve a four-day quarantine, which began Tuesday, after the league investigated a video published by Black Sports Online of him attending what they determined to be a “private indoor party” Monday.

If Harden has four consecutive negative COVID-19 tests, he will be allowed to play in the Rockets’ next game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. He won’t be able to travel with the team Friday, but he could fly to Portland the following day. 

If Harden had missed any games, his punishment would’ve been much more severe. 

If a player violates protocols, they will serve a de facto suspension, because they will not get paid for each game they miss during quarantine, according to someone familiar with the league’s thinking.

Players who violate protocol are docked 1/72 of their salary per each game they miss during quarantine, significantly more than the 1/145 of their salary they’re docked because of a suspension, according to sources.

Harden, who is making $40,824,000 this season, would’ve lost $567,000 for each game he missed during quarantine because of his violation. And he would’ve lost that amount Wednesday if the league hadn’t postponed the Rockets game against the Oklahoma City Thunder

The league postponed that game ⁠— just two days into the season ⁠— after three Rockets played tested positive or inconclusive for COVID-19 and four other players were quarantined because of the league’s contract tracing protocol, leaving the team with fewer than the league-mandated eight available players to play. 

Harden may have dodged some steep fines, but the timing doesn’t always work out so well for players.  

Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, for example, had to serve a 10-day quarantine and miss two games without pay during the resumed NBA season at Walt Disney World after he went inside a strip club in Atlanta during an excused absence for his grandfather’s funeral. In the NBA Bubble, players were docked 1/92.6 of their pay for each game they missed because of protocol violations. 

Players who test positive for COVID-19 but are not found in violation of league protocols do not lose any pay for games missed during their quarantine. 

After Wednesday’s game was postponed and the league announced Harden’s fine, questions were raised over why the Rockets didn’t have to forfeit the game after a player so blatantly violated protocols. 

According to someone familiar with the league’s thinking, the NBA can force a team to forfeit a game, but would only do so if there’s “an egregious and wide-ranging violation of protocols.”

Harden, an eight-time All-Star and one-time MVP in 2018, reportedly requested to be traded and showed up late to training camp after attending rapper Lil Baby’s birthday party in Atlanta and clubs in Las Vegas.

The Rockets chose not to discipline him for his tardy arrival and the NBA couldn’t enforce any punishments because he hadn’t yet reported to camp so he wasn’t officially under the league’s Health and Safety protocols.

Before the NBA issued Harden’s fine, the guard took to Instagram to issue a statement. 

“One thing after another,” Harden wrote. “I went to show my love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in position of success and now it’s a problem. Everyday it’s something different. No matter how many times people try to drag my name under you can’t. The real always end up on top.”

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