OKC-Houston game postponed, Harden out after COVID violation

Basketball

Houston Rockets guard James Harden, top center, joins the huddle during the fourth quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Houston. (Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle via AP)

HOUSTON (AP) — The James Harden soap opera in Houston now comes with a canceled season opener.

Houston’s opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night was scrapped after coronavirus cases and Harden’s violation of the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols left the Rockets without the league-mandated eight players available.

It was a dispiriting blow to the NBA on just the second night of an uncertain season launching with the pandemic still raging.

The NBA announced the postponement in a release that said three Rockets players had returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive and that four other players were quarantined because of contract tracing.

The release also said that Harden was unavailable for the game because of a violation of health and safety protocols after video of the disgruntled star surfaced on social media where he was without a mask at a crowded party in a private event space Tuesday night.

Already a distraction to the team amid months of rumors that he wants to be traded. Harden’s latest move potentially threatened the health and safety of his team and kept the Rockets from beginning their season.

The NBA’s announcement indicated that Harden being found in violation of the protocols was the determining factor in the Rockets not having the eight necessary players to play; it would have been known before the team and league probed the Harden situation that one player was hurt, three others positive and four others would be in quarantine.

Houston has 16 players on its roster; with seven dealing with tests or quarantine and one hurt, that would have left eight eligible players, which is the league minimum to start a game. Harden’s unavailability lowered Houston’s total of available players to seven.

Houston’s injury report released Wednesday morning that Ben McLemore and rookie KJ Martin were not with the team and were self-isolating and that DeMarcus Cousins was questionable because of a sprained right ankle.

The NBA’s health and safety protocols for this season make it very clear: players are not allowed to attend large indoor social gatherings (meaning 15 or more people); bars, lounges, clubs and similar establishments; live performance venues and other such places. Harden’s since-deleted Instagram post explaining why he attended the event in question would certainly suggest that he was in violation of those rules.

In the post he wrote: “One thing after another. I went to show love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in a 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 people always end up on top.”

But for now the eight-time All-Star is on the shelf after admitting to breaking the rules set forth in the protocols.

“In light of the serious and highly infectious nature of the coronavirus… individuals must not engage in activities or conduct that a reasonable person would regard as posing unnecessary risk relative to the significance (or lack thereof) of such activity or conduct,” the protocols say.

Harden, according to the protocols, may now be ordered into quarantine. And it will likely cost him a good sum of money; players “also may be subject to a proportionate adjustment to pay for any games missed during the period that the player is in quarantine and undergoing testing due to engaging in such activities and/or conduct,” the NBA said.

Harden could lose about $280,000 for each game missed. Houston’s next scheduled game is Saturday at Portland.

Oklahoma City also was involved in the March 11 game that led to the league shutting down for the coronavirus pandemic; the Thunder were to have been the home team that night for a game against Utah, called off when it was learned Jazz center Rudy Gobert was the NBA’s first player to test positive for COVID-19.

The Thunder, unwittingly, now find themselves part of history again.

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