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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Rohan Nadkarni

James Harden Trade Grades: Clippers Finally Land Former MVP

James Harden’s wish has come true.

After vowing in the summer not to play for Daryl Morey ever again, Harden is finally headed to the Clippers—the only team that was on his list after he demanded a trade in the offseason. Philadelphia will acquire forwards Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington and Marcus Morris in the move, as well as guard Kenyon Martin Jr., a 2028 first-round pick, two second-round picks, a pick swap, and a future first from a third team, per ESPN. In addition to Harden, P.J. Tucker is also headed to Los Angeles.

Harden, 34, won MVP in 2018. He averaged 21.0 points and 10.7 assists per game last season. He has not appeared in a game yet so far this year.

Let’s grade the deal for both sides.

Clippers: B+

If you’re operating under the premise that you must acquire Harden—which is questionable, though L.A.’s stars seemed to want it—then this is a pretty solid deal for the Clips. Harden’s playoff struggles are mitigated by the fact that he will be the third option on this team, and many nights possibly the fourth. He gives Ty Lue a better playmaker next to Russell Westbrook in the backcourt, and a spot-up threat around Russ, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. When healthy, the Clippers can always have at least two of their stars on the floor, which should help mitigate some of the depth lost in this move. And don’t sleep on Tucker. He won’t provide the offense of Batum, but he’s another rugged defender to use in a playoff series against elite offensive players—a luxury to have in a conference featuring the Suns, Nuggets, Warriors and Lakers.

Harden is old, though. He will be looking for a new contract in the summer. And his last three exits have all been handled disastrously. Do the Clips have the infrastructure and leadership to manage his personality? That remains to be seen. Still, assuming Harden is on his best behavior for the rest of this season at least—admittedly, a dangerous assumption—then the Clippers not only have a new level of insurance for another Kawhi or PG injury, they’ve definitely brought themselves a little bit closer to a championship.

Harden averaged 21 points and 10.7 assists per game last season with the Sixers.

Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

For what it’s worth, the last time Harden played with stars he really wanted to—next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn—he thrived until injuries and off-court drama got in the way. On paper, this makes sense. It’s a risk. But ultimately, probably a worthy one with Denver and Phoenix looming, and the uncertainty around this team’s health.

Clippers Odds to Win Championship Before Harden Trade: +2400

Clippers Odds to Win Championship After Harden Trade: +1300

76ers: B

Similar to the Ben Simmons trade that brought Harden to Philly in the first place, the Sixers are trading away a headache and someone who wasn’t even playing for immediate help. Sure, Philly may not be acquiring a “star” in this deal, but that never seemed realistic at this stage of Harden’s career.

I think this is a solid move for the Sixers. Those two firsts can be used in a future deal to buttress the rotation. And Batum is a better fit than Tucker. He can also defend, and he’s a more willing shooter with some creativity off the bounce as well. Covington also returns as a 3-and-D guy, and while he’s maybe a little less reliable than you’d hope, he excelled playing off Joel Embiid previously. On top of all that, every contract coming from LA is expiring, which means the 76ers will still have plenty of cap space next summer.

At this point, Harden was a sunk cost with little-to-no trade market. Philly still made out with a couple capable vets, a chance to revive Morris and picks/contracts that could be used for another deal, perhaps at the deadline. With the emergence of Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers didn’t necessarily need to go star hunting. And now they’re better equipped on the wing for matchups with the Bucks and Celtics.

What hangs over all of this is Embiid. Will he be satisfied with this move? He’s looked engaged and had dominant stretches over the first three games of this season. If that holds, and Maxey keeps playing well, then Philly is in good-to-decent shape. 

76ers Odds to Win Championship Before Harden Trade: +2700

76ers Odds to Win Championship After Harden Trade: +2800

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