James Harden absent from Rockets’ first practice amid trade rumors

Rockets star James Harden didn’t participate in the team’s first training camp practice Sunday because of the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols after posting pictures and videos on Instagram over the weekend at rapper Lil Baby’s birthday party without a mask.

Head coach Stephen Silas told reporters Harden was expected to have an individual workout at the Toyota Center on Sunday evening. However, the first-year coach said he hasn’t had any communication with the eight-time All-Star.

“I’m not exactly sure what hoops he has to jump through in order to practice with the team,” Silas said. “I would just say I want him here, and I want him to be a big part of what we’re doing. I’m excited to coach him and have him be a part of what we just had out there with a good practice, with a bunch of guys who are working hard on both ends of the floor and had a good vibe about them.”

Amid rampant rumors Harden has expressed interest in being traded to the Nets, he tattled on himself by posting throughout the rapper’s birthday party in Atlanta. The NBA required players to quarantine at home this week other than testing at team facilities, individual workouts and essential activities.

Harden, who has not been made available to the media since the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs in the Orlando bubble, posted the wide-smiling emoji to his Instagram story Sunday afternoon.

Veteran P.J. Tucker has also not been cleared to practice with the team because of COVID-19 protocols. Tucker was expected to have an individual workout later in the day as well, according to Silas.

Silas said Thursday he wanted to give Harden some “space,” but expects the 2018 MVP to be “all in” when he gets to training camp. When asked about Harden’s commitment to Houston, Silas deferred.

“That’s a question you’re going to have to ask him when he gets here,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having him here and getting to his individual workout. That’s the word I heard from the pipeline. Once he gets here, obviously the best communication for me would be face-to-face communication — not text, not phone, not anything else.

“I’m looking forward to him getting here, getting in the building, and then we can talk about what’s best. But you know, that’s kind of a work in progress right now.”

Page Six reported Harden gifted Lil Baby a Prada duffel bag filled with actual honey buns and a slang honey bun, which is $100,000 in cash. The bag also included a brand-new Richard Mille watch.