Any other year, don’t go near James Harden.
Any other team, there’s just no room for James Harden.
But these are the desperate Clippers, and this is a last-gasp season, and the craziest idea in the NBA makes total sense.
James Harden would be the perfect addition to Los Angeles’ most imperfect franchise.
He wants to leave Philadelphia. They should let him. He wants to join the Clippers. They should welcome him.
A potential deal has been gaining steam this summer as quickly and furiously as Harden grows facial hair. It’s time both sides figure a way to do it. It’s time the Clippers realize they have no choice.
Kawhi Leonard needs him. Paul George needs him. Steve Ballmer needs him.
Harden is selfish, erratic, eccentric, a complete and constant pain in the shorts. But he also has the court vision that can direct this franchise toward the 2024 opening of the new Inglewood arena. He has the hands that can roll out the red carpet. He has the buzz that can turn on the lights.
If somebody filmed a documentary on this upcoming Clippers season, they would call it, “The Last Chance.”
It’s a last chance for Leonard and George to seriously chase a championship before Ballmer throws up his hands and gives them the Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers treatment. It too could be a last chance for Harden, with an expiring contract, to show he is finally worthy of organizing a team into a title.
The odd combination works. The three mismatched pieces fit.
Harden demanded a trade from the 76ers this summer, and the league sighed and shrugged; it was the third team he’s demanded to leave in less than three seasons.
But this week Harden’s demands became more meaningful with reports of Joel Embiid’s comments at the Uninterrupted Film Festival in Los Angeles. The NBA most valuable player said he wants to win so badly, he’s willing to leave Philadelphia to do it, which puts the pressure on 76ers president Daryl Morey to rid the team of the unhappy Harden and all of his distractions.
“I just want to win a championship. Whatever it takes,” Embiid said. “I don’t know where that’s gonna be, whether that’s in Philly or anywhere else.”
Harden, who soon will be 34, had a good season, leading the league with 10.7 assists per game to accompany a 21-point scoring average. But he once again failed in the biggest of moments, going seven for 27 in the final two games of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics.
That’s his history. That’s his legacy. Who can forget his two-for-11 debacle for Houston in a 2015 game that sent the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Finals? Three years later he was bricking under pressure again, going two for 13 on threes to send the Warriors back to the Finals.
He’s lousy in big games and he’s lousy in bad moods. He was a complete jerk to the Rockets when he wanted to leave there in 2021, showing up extremely late to training camp and extremely out of shape. He basically pouted until the Rockets sent him to Brooklyn … where he eventually pouted until he was sent to Philadelphia … where he will pout until he is sent to the Clippers.
You get the picture. It’s not pretty. But for once, the Clippers and their joyful community culture aren’t in need of pretty. They need grinders, scrapers, clawers, and Harden brings that. They need someone searching for redemption, and that is exactly what Harden is doing.
He’ll behave here. Promise. And if the Clippers lose and he starts to pout again, well, Ballmer will blow the whole thing up after the season, so what does it matter? Expiring contract. Inspiring play. That’s the way it usually works.
As expected, Morey said this week that he’s not interested in trading Harden for anything less than a bunch of good players or draft picks.
“James is a very good player. Right now, unfortunately, he does prefer to be somewhere else,” Morey said Tuesday in a radio interview with Anthony Gargano on 97.5 FM in Philadelphia. “I do have a long relationship with him, and I am attempting to honor that.”
”If we don’t get either a very good player or something we can turn into a very good player, then we’re just not going to do it,” he added.
Don’t listen to him. The guess here is that if the Clippers could offer a package centered around Norman Powell and Terance Mann, Morey eventually would take it.
Neither one is a Harden-caliber star, but neither one is poison, and that’s what Harden will become if he’s still with the 76ers when training camp opens.
As with the rest of the league, Morey saw what happened with Harden in Houston. He knows what kind of havoc an unhappy Harden can cause. Does he want that sort of chaos on a contending team with a freshly minted MVP and new coach Nick Nurse? Doesn’t he think he can win with the game being run by breakout guard Tyrese Maxey?
Morey knows he has to move Harden. He understandably is trying to jack up the price. In the end, the pouting will win.
As for the Clippers, they obviously can’t speak about Harden, but they’ve made it clear they want to get help for the injury-prone Leonard and George.
“What we are trying to do is how can we put together the best team around these guys … we’re trying to maximize these two and figure out ways that we can get better,” Clippers basketball president Lawrence Frank said to reporters this summer.
They reportedly were so frustrated with the constant injuries that they entertained trade requests for George. What they probably discovered is that neither star has much trade value until they can prove they can play a full season and deep into spring.
Harden can give them that. Harden can bring them there.
“The Last Chance” needs one more powerful supporting actor.
It is the perfect role for James Harden.