Back in early August, just two months after the Nuggets were crowned world champions, Philadelphia Sixers star guard James Harden asked to be traded away from a team he played for the past two seasons.
After asking for a trade, he ripped Sixers president Daryl Morey. “Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part o.,” Harden said during an Adidas media event in China. “Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.”
Early Halloween morning, Harden got exactly what he wanted. And more importantly “where” he wanted and that was to get back to his hometown of Los Angeles. He did just that, when the Los Angeles Clippers acquired the 10x All-Star.
What Package it took to get Harden
Some people may say it did not take a haul to acquire Harden, but it depends on who you ask. They sent over Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Kenyon Martin Jr., and Robert Covington along with a 2028 unprotected first-round pick, two second-round picks, a 2029 pick swap and an additional first-round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Losing those four players might go overlooked as they were veteran players (with the exception of Martin Jr., in his 3rd season) on the wing that helped compliment their two stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Morris was a full-time starter the past two seasons. Batum was a player that played in big moments and coach Ty Lue trusted in his three seasons. Covington was key with his ability to be disruptive on the defensive end and guard multiple positions.
So, only time will tell how much they miss the length on the perimeter. Or miss the veteran leadership they had on the floor and in the locker room.
What does adding potentially Harden look like?
Now the question is what does this new Clippers team look like moving forward? When you add a player that is part of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team and the only player in NBA history to win three straight scoring titles and two assists titles should be easy, right?
Maybe, but not if you have a former MVP (2017) in Russell Westbrook already solidifying the point guard position. Westbrook has been a welcome addition to this roster since signing last season. This after being bought out by Utah, after the trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. The former teammates who are very familiar with each other after playing four seasons together (3 in OKC, 1 in Houston) will get the opportunity to reunite for the third time in their careers. But will coach Ty Lue decide to start them together?
James Harden and Russell Westbrook reunited in LA pic.twitter.com/42onQFAqz1— Joey Linn (@joeylinn_) November 1, 2023
Second unit makeover
What does the second unit that was led by Bones Hyland and Norman Powell look like? Hyland seems to have had full control so far this early season of the second unit. He is averaging a career best 16/ ppg and coach Ty Lue has constantly spoken about the growth he has seen from him in just 24 total games. Powell, now in his third season in LA, is currently averaging 14.5/ppg in these first four games. This comes after 17/ppg last season and is one of the better scorers off the bench. Also, a former champion with the Toronto Raptors back in 2019. So with the addition of Harden what does it mean for them?
Since George and Leonard signed back in 2019 they haven’t had much stability at the point guard position. Their lead guards have ranked 28th in ppg. They were also last in assists/gm from 2019-23 and have failed to help set them up to get easy shots consistently. This is something this team is hopeful Harden will help address. The reigning league leader in assists (10.7/gm) has created 350 uncontested shots off passes created by him in the past three seasons, while Leonard and George have only had 133 created for them combined over that timeframe, according to Second Spectrum.
This is what this organization envisions when they traded for him. Someone who can help get easier looks not just for Leonard and George, but everyone that steps on the floor with him.
Last season, LA lost in the first round in five games to Phoenix after a knee injury (torn meniscus in right knee) kept Leonard out of games 3-5. After they were eliminated, coach Ty Lue said, “We haven’t lost a series with our whole team (healthy) and that’s encouraging.” Heading into the season he also spoke about wanting to see his team play faster and with more pace, but now trying to integrate Harden’s style, what will that look like?
So now with this trade, LA went from 18-1 odds to 13-1 (tied for 6th) to win this season’s championship, according to Caesars Sports Book.
When big moments arrive (in the playoffs assuming they get there) which version of Harden will they get when they need it most? He’s had an up and down postseason track record that continues to overshadow his regular season greatness. His past two seasons in the playoffs for his former team in Philly were not his best performances. In 10 out of the 13 playoff games he appeared in were a struggle even with the reigning MVP in Joel Embiid leading the way. He shot just 32% from the field, 22% from 3-pt, and averaged just 14.5 ppg after being a 21/ppg and 11/ast in the regular season.
Those stats were encouraging enough for ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to make this statement after the trade on his show First Take, “They (Leonard, George, Westbrook) were fine before he (Harden) arrived. If they (the Clippers) are the same or worse, he will be blamed.”
With trade now official, coach Ty Lue knows what’s in front of them.
Clippers are now officially all in!
“It’s going to take a lot of sacrifice,” Lue said about the trade. “Now it’s my job to make sure I put the pieces in the right spot to make sure we’re successful.”
This will now be the fourth team Harden has been on in the past 2 ½ years (Houston, then to Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and now LA) and this was also the fourth time a former MVP has been traded, tied for most all-time. He’s on the final year of his $35.6M contract and will be looking for another big contract by next season, will that be in LA or somewhere else?
Again, he got exactly what he wanted (out of Philly) and where he wanted (to LA), so the question is which version of James Harden will the Clippers get in return? With four days off before the Clippers take the floor again in New York, we hopefully get our first look.