In the wee hours of the morning on Oct. 31, Philadelphia (likely reluctantly) dealt James Harden and PJ Tucker to the Los Angeles Clippers for Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, Robert Covington and KJ Martin, and draft picks. A deal had to be done. Harden went scorched Earth ofon Sixers general manager Darryl Morey. There’s some irony there, as Morey while GM of the Houston Rockets made the trade for Harden that turned the guard into a superstar.
Morey historically has waited to trade his own players until he’s gotten the best possible deal. That didn’t happen this time. Philly target Terrance Mann, a 27-year-old with a career average of less than 10 points per game, was not included in the deal. This is addition by subtraction. Harden since the start of training camp made no effort to make amends. He had to be moved.
After nearly a decade in Houston as an MVP-caliber player, a superstar who could drag a team to at least the second round of the playoffs, Harden once he suits up for the Clippers will be on his fourth team in the last four seasons. If Kyrie Irving has gained a reputation as someone who sets fire to everything he touches, Harden is the Human Torch.
Once again Harden has gotten what he wants. With the Clippers he’s now one of four LA-born stars, alongside Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook. It’s the third time Harden and Westbrook have shared a locker room as pros. The first two ended with each being traded in favor of the other.
The fit in LA is interesting. Harden can be a full-time facilitator, as he led the League in assists last season. Harden could play the Steve Nash/Isiah Thomas/Chris Paul role where he sets everyone else up for the first 42 minutes and brings it home the last 6 minutes of tight games.
The Clippers outside of Ivaca Zubac have no size to speak of. And in case you haven’t noticed, size is important in the West.
And what about the almost inevitable injury to Leonard and/or George? LA’s prospects hinge on the health of those two top-flight wings. The Clippers are 85-36 when those two play together, good for a better than .700 win percentage. The problem is those 121 games have come over the last four-plus seasons. If healthy, this new Clippers core is a sure-fire title contender. But who actually believes this team, with its luck, will get the requisite health needed to assert itself into the championship picture?
Philly’s Phuture is now
And what of the 76ers?
Philly now has about $100 million in expiring contracts it can move in favor of a third top-tier player to put with MVP Joel Embiid and newly-minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week Tyrese Maxey. The 76ers new Big Two so far has averaged better than a combined 60 points per game for the 2-1 Sixers. But they’ll need some additional scoring help, too, for the nights when Embiid only wants to shoot jumpers or when Maxey has an off night.
There are, and will be, players available. Chicago looks to be a disaster. Would the Bulls move either of wings Zach Lavine or DeMar Derozan for a package of expiring contracts and future draft picks?
Morey and Philly have to do something else. It’s unclear when the players acquired in the trade can be moved, but they should be. In theory, this adds depth for Philly, but the Sixers aren’t better. If Morey’s plan isn’t to go after a standout player to add to the mix, Embiid should ask for a trade before the end of the week.
Philly as currently constituted is good enough to make the playoffs, maybe even with a series. But the Sixers are bound for their annual second-round exit unless more changes are coming.
No real change in pecking order
So now what?
The Clippers as it stands should finish in the top 6 in the west, avoiding the play-in round.
The Sixers with the move remain behind Milwaukee and Boston, and may be on a tier with New York and Cleveland.
The name is big, but this deal doesn’t represent some seismic shift in the League.