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Would the LA Clippers even want James Harden?

James Harden has done all he can to force a trade to the LA Clippers, but is there someone he forgot to ask?

The Myth of “Consensual” Sex is a meme template that sounds a lot better when you’re looking at it, not as the opener to an NBA article, but it couldn’t fit better in this situation. 

All the attention on the James Harden drama has, rightfully, been directed at the Philadelphia 76ers, Harden’s relationship with Daryl Morey and the future of Joel Embiid. Despite all that, is there someone we’re forgetting to ask? Do the LA Clippers, the only team on Harden’s trade list, even want to trade for the ageing guard?

Making things more difficult is the fact that the Clippers appear to have moved on, opting to stay away from the mess, via Brian Windhorst, ESPN.

“One of the things that happened here is I think the Clippers had decided there was no trade. I think the Clippers were going to move on from it and at least from talking to Philly about it,” Windhorst reported following Harden’s “liar” comments in China.

“I think the only option Philly had at the time was the Clippers and that never got off the ground, from what I understand. They had multiple conversations… You can see the two rosters. You can see what the trade pieces are. You can understand why they wouldn’t [do a trade].”

The trade would be based around Norman Powell, Marcus Morris Sr. and Robert Covington. Initial talks seemed to stall on Terence Mann’s involvement in the package but regardless, it’s not a great deal for the 76ers. Powell is an average scoring guard but Morris and RoCo are well past their prime: I don’t care how many puff pieces come out about the latter.

A month ago, Shams Charania, The Athletic noted that trade talks between the Clippers are 76ers are “likely” to pick back up before the 2023-24 season, but we haven’t heard anything yet.

If they do pick back up and Morey is happy to discuss realistic trades, lowering his exorbitant asking price, any Harden deal is likely going to be a collection of spare parts in return for the former MVP.

And if a deal does get done before training camp, it’s because the Clippers have all the bargaining power. LA seems happy walking into the season with their current roster, but the 76ers might miss out on a valuable Embiid season if they don’t do something about Harden, and fast.

Ignoring the politics for a second, why would the LA Clippers want to trade for James Harden the player, not James Harden the disgruntled star who requested a trade to Southern California?

The Clippers have underperformed every season that Kawhi Leonard has worn their jersey. Their first season, the COVID-shortened season, saw them lose in dramatic fashion to the Denver Nuggets, then it was the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals, then they missed the playoffs before losing in the First Round this past season.

Yes, there are injuries to blame (when they’re finally reported), but whether fair or not, the Clippers have nothing to show for their exorbitant tax bill and overhyped roster. Every season, Steve Ballmer green lights immediate winning and expensive moves but they always fall short.

This season, the Clippers are (again) crossing their fingers that Paul George and Kawhi can stay healthy while cycling through role players and buy-low prospects. They’ve done an excellent job at finding value on the margins, but if Kawhi and/or PG can’t touch the court in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter.

James Harden would give them a defined number-one ball handler who isn’t just going to sit in the corner while the two star wings try and shine. Harden just averaged 21 points and 10.7 assists while fitting in behind a bigger star in Embiid.

Jimbo Slice (as Basketball Reference says is his nickname) led the league in assist percentage and was in the 87th percentile in points per shot attempt per Cleaning the Glass. He didn’t average an Allen Iverson-esque 30-plus points a night but he was efficient in his role and got the most out of an awkward supporting cast.

And the role players around Kawhi and PG have always been solid finishers and shooters. It doesn’t hurt to surround those two with those archetypes but giving that supporting cast to a pick-and-roll ball handler should only increase their regular season floor, if not the playoff ceiling.

Russell Westbrook is now a change-of-pace backup point guard, Bones Hyland keeps me doubting my sanity after picking him for Sixth Man of the Year and I doubt I’d be able to pick Brandon Boston Jr. and Jason Preston out of a lineup. James Harden would be the definitive starting point guard all season and his defensive shortcomings would be masked by two All-Defence wings.

If the Clippers can get this deal done with few picks on the table, it seems like a no-lose prospect. If any team can turn ageing role players into an All-Star, even if he’s on the lower end at this stage of his career, you do it.

And on the Terence Mann sticking point; if you can save some draft capital but have to part with a solid 3-and-D role player, do it. Lawrence Frank and this front office have consistently found value at the trade deadline when it seems like they don’t have assets and Mann is replaceable.

But a potential James Harden trade should ask the Clippers front office another question. Since they’re another year removed from the Paul George trade, they have more first-round picks at their disposal. Instead of swapping them for the first player that comes on the market, should they explore trade options for a combination of salaries and picks? There’s a chance it’s worth more than Harden anyway.

If Karl-Anthony Towns is truly on the move, would he be a better trade candidate for this Clippers team than Harden? What about Rudy Gobert?

I doubt that LA has the scratch to pull off a Damian Lillard trade, but what about a smaller deal for Anfernee Simons? What about being the re-route destination for Tyler Herro in a Lillard deal?

Could they pull off a deal for the expiring Toronto Raptors in O.G. Anunuoby or Pascal Siakam?

Do any of the Chicago Bulls players tickle their fancy (and fit their price range)?

There are options out there for the Clippers if they decide to go big-game hunting again. I think it’d be in their best interest to throw their name around with some of these trade targets if only to force Daryl Morey’s hand. 

All the power in the Harden negotiations sits with the Clippers and it might not even be the move they want to make.

Written by
Sean Carroll

Host of The Deep Two NBA Podcast and editor of thedeeptwo.com, Sean can often be found talking himself into whichever Golden State Warrior happens to be in their early 20s or unironically saying "light years"

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