James Harden and Clippers get what they want, but at what cost?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Clippers traded for James Harden and P.J. Tucker while keeping Terance Mann and Norman Powell but was it worth it?

LOS ANGELES — The James Harden saga is finally over…After 125 days of speculation, hypotheticals, hold-outs, and questions, Harden is now a Los Angeles Clipper. The best thing about it all for the Clippers? They kept their core and young assets in the process, simply by holding out long enough. 

Let’s dive into my three key points:

So…What Was the Full Trade?

I am glad you asked. The Clippers are sending Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, KJ Martin, a 2028 unprotected first-round pick, two second round picks, a 2029 pick swap, and 1 other first round pick from OKC in 2026 for James Harden and P.J. Tucker. I know it is a handful to process, so let’s break it down.

This is a win for both teams in my opinion, as the Clippers shed some expiring salary and wing depth, while adding a 10-time All-Star in James Harden and a defensive grinder in P.J. Tucker. Also, the Clippers get to keep Terance Mann, Norm Powell, and Bones Hyland, all three of which were included in talks throughout the process. 

For the Sixers, they get a reunion with Robert Covington (who has looked fantastic defensively to start the season), Marcus Morris (who is from Philadelphia and should get some run), Nicolas Batum (who is a great slasher, 3-point shooter and flexible defender), and K.J. Martin (who is a high-flying lob threat). 

These four players should get some good playing time for a Sixer team that already has Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and Kelly Oubre. Not to mention, they get those essential draft picks, which can be flipped alongside the assets they just acquired, to acquire more talent. 

Harden Puts the Clippers Back Into Contender Status   

Let’s get this out of the way now: James Harden is still an excellent player when healthy. There have been many discussions and talk around the media regarding the player that Harden is now as opposed to his MVP caliber years in Houston. 

The fact of the matter is James Harden is still an All-Star caliber player and led the league in Assists Per Game last year at 10.7. He will slot into the starting lineup next to Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook to provide isolation scoring and pick and roll dominance. 

Yes, there are questions about the James Harden fit on the court, but on paper, the fit alongside two stars and a still productive Westbrook should peak the interest of Clipper fans. It takes the burden away from Leonard and George on the offensive end and in any case that one or both of those players gets hurt, James Harden and Russell Westbrook can fill in adequately, much like we saw from those two in a great 2019-2020 campaign together on the Houston Rockets. 

The last piece of this is that this is the “Most Southern California Team Ever.” Paul George is from Palmdale, Kawhi Leonard is from Moreno Valley, Russell Westbrook is from Hawthorne, and now James Harden is from Lakewood. 3 of those 4 players are looking for their first NBA title in their careers as well, and it remains to be seen if they can deliver a championship to their hometown. It would be quite the story in any capacity…

Familiar Faces Now Gone

With any blockbuster trade, there are always players who have become fan favorites that have to be shipped out. This time, for Clipper fans, there is a bit of relief and a bit of “what-if.”

Nicolas Batum said on multiple occasions that Ty Lue saved his career when the Clippers signed him in the fall of 2020 on a veteran minimum. He went on to become an integral part of the rotation and be a voice and locker room leader for the team’s first Western Conference Finals appearance in 2021. His fandom and relatability off the court birthed the term “Batum Battalion,” where fans fully embraced Batum and his family. He will always be known as a Clipper legend and certainly remembered for his time in Los Angeles. 

Robert Covington was sent over to the Clippers before the trade deadline in 2022 alongside Norman Powell. He went on to contribute immediately, including setting the Clipper record for 3 pointers made in a single game that year. Covington, who’s nickname is “Ro-Co” quickly became a fan favorite due to his quick hands and active defense. He re-signed that offseason and for whatever reason, dropped out of the rotation in the 2022-2023 season, despite not being injured. Now, he will be reunited with his first team in Philadelphia, where he will surely contribute in big ways.

Marcus Morris was the most controversial player the Clippers had over the past 10 months. He was belittled by fans, traded and then rescinded in the off-season, called Clipper fans out over the summer, benched for the first 3 games, and now traded again to his hometown. I have been very critical of his performance and his playing time over players that deserved more, but Morris was a huge part of the Clippers run to the 2021 Western Conference Finals. He made seven three pointers in game 7 of the first round against the Mavericks that year, and was a great spot-up shooter and defender throughout those playoffs. While Morris leaves on a bad note, he will still be a part of the only team in Clipper history to get to the Western Conference Finals. 

While it is devastating to see some of these players go on to another chapter, the Clippers have now solidified themselves as an elite contender, and with the Intuit Dome coming in the fall of 2024, it is now or never.