HOUSTON: The James Harden soap opera in Houston now comes with a canceled season opener and a $50,000-fine for the league’s leading scorer.

James Harden20201225 - OKC-Houston game postponed, Harden out after Covid violation
James Harden (No. 13) of the Houston Rockets dunks the ball against Draymond
Green of the Golden State Warriors during an NBA game in Oakland, California. AFP FILE PHOTO

Houston’s opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) was scrapped after coronavirus cases and Harden’s violation of the NBA’s coronavirus disease 2019 (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 on Monday.

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.

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 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.

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