Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Swanson: Trade for James Harden? Clippers have to try

Must read

Beard or no beard?

Heard from a bunch of Clippers fans on Twitter, and 70% of them indicated – in my absolutely unscientific poll – that they thought their team’s roster would look better with a beard. Or the Beard.

Clippers fans might be contrarians, but they’re not dumb.

James Harden, the one-time Lakewood Artesia High standout who grew up to become a 10-time NBA All-Star, three-time scoring champ, 2017-18 league MVP and – this is key – twice the league’s leading facilitator, could be traded to the Clippers if they can come to terms with the Philadelphia 76ers.

To recap the most breathlessly reported possible transaction this free agency week: Harden, reportedly displeased with the Sixers over how they’ve handled contract negotiations, exercised his $35.6 million player option Thursday and asked for a trade. He reportedly wants to come here, home to the Clippers.

Should they do it? Yes. They should try to find a way.

How much should they relinquish to get him? Only as much as they have to.

Obviously. Obviously. Aye aye, Captain.

Protect the young assets, be stingy with those players who have fewer miles on their legs and who will make less of a dent in the more onerous salary structure that’s being ushered in with the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement.

Pitch hardballs, because that’s what Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will be throwing back. We know because we lived through his six-month standoff with Ben Simmons that led to the Sixers’ acquisition of Harden back in February 2022.

So we’re gonna be here awhile, then https://t.co/E5xrEP9HwX

— Lucas (@LucasJHann) June 30, 2023

And then, if the Clippers get it done, they’ll have to cross their fingers and say a little prayer to the basketball gods, plead nicely for good health and happiness.

Because, let’s be honest: There’d be potential pitfalls, opportunities aplenty for the deal to go sideways.

Harden’s employee record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Not sure that NBA teams check references, or would want to, but this is the third time he’s asked out of a situation in three years, potentially the third ugly breakup in a row.

I remember listening when the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, Lawrence Frank, addressed fans after a midseason roster overhaul in 2018, hinting at how the team planned to entice potential free agents (ahem, Kawhi). A key selling point then – and now, and always, regardless of how much a salary cap squeezes them: “We got the best city in the NBA, right?” Frank said then. “The thing we offer, in this city, is you get all the benefits without the drama.”

To his point, Russell Westbrook’s stint last season as a Clipper was decidedly drama-free. But who knows with Harden?

In Houston in 2020-21, he got disgruntled, skipped individual workouts, seemed to be partying in Las Vegas instead of reporting to training camp and hurled a basketball at teammates. Finally, he shoved his way out to Brooklyn after lamenting openly: “(We’re) just not good enough. … I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can. I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”

And then a year into his Nets tenure, after playing himself into shape, Harden got fed up with that situation, which was plagued by injuries and fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated so he could be available regularly.

And now, after an uneven playoff performance last season, including Harden’s nine-point effort in their season-ending loss to Boston in Game 7 of their second-round series, the Sixers have managed to offend him too – understandable, perhaps, considering he accepted a discount last season. (He declined his $47.4 million player option and instead inked a two-year, $68.6 million deal that included the player option, which allowed Philly to make some additional moves, including signing P.J. Tucker.)

James Harden’s brilliant playmaking has made a huge difference to the Sixers’ offense.

Some of his best assists with Philly so far: pic.twitter.com/NrUVvOKaXS

— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) August 3, 2022

Despite all that, it could be a good deal for the Clippers. Those star-crossed, snakebitten Clippers, who aren’t actually so many whiskers away from championship contention – or wouldn’t be, if they had any kind of luck besides the bad kind.

Confidence in them has waned as well. All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were tasked with securing the franchise’s first championship, but in four seasons since joining forces in 2019-20, they’ve gotten only as far as the Western Conference finals.

But the oft-injured pair is an impressive 96-46 in their all-too-rare appearances together. That’s really good!

So cool it on the George trade chatter, and fire up that trade machine for Harden.

Because if – big, big, all-caps IF – the Clippers could get Nos. 2 and 13 together with the elite facilitator they’ve been hunting obsessively for on a regular basis? They’d make believers out of even the most disheartened Clippers fan. Of the most ardent hater.

And without better options than Kawhi and PG in what is, for now, their final guaranteed year together, and with a new arena that’ll need some juice to start the 2024 season, Harden would help a team that’s due to break through someday. That has to, right?

Maybe, if the Clippers go wishing on a third star.

More articles

Latest article