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 to start a game.
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 Monday night.
The league later announced the fine for Harden, saying the protocols prohibit attending indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people or entering bars, lounges, clubs or similar establishments.
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.
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The drama began when reports surfaced that Harden and Russell Westbrook both wanted out of Houston. The Rockets dealt Westbrook to the Wizards earlier this month after just one disappointing season in exchange for John Wall and a future first-round pick.
That move did nothing to quell the reports that Harden still wanted to be traded, and the scrutiny only intensified when the 2018 MVP didn’t report to camp on time. While the rest of the Rockets were preparing for the season, Harden was photographed partying in Atlanta at a rapper’s birthday party and at a nightclub in Las Vegas.
He finally arrived in Houston but missed the team’s first two preseason games under new coach Stephen Silas while going through the league’s COVID-19 testing protocol. Harden rejoined a team that looked quite a bit different than the one which lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals this summer.
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.
Harden’s since-deleted Instagram post explaining why he attended the event in question would certainly suggest that he was in violation of the 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.”