James Harden was finally granted his trade request after months of trade talks with the Clippers came and went without a deal manifesting itself.
After a hot start by Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers finally felt it was time to remove the Harden question and just move forward with Maxey and Joel Embiid leading the way. The Clippers were the beneficiary, getting Harden for picks and a quartet of wings to help declutter their rotation without having to give up Terance Mann or any core pieces. While the upside to Harden is clear, as they could use another facilitator and initiator in the backcourt, there is the question of how he will fit with their other stars.
While they will all say the right things now and Harden figures to buy in initially, a quote from Thursday nights intro presser for Harden raised some eyebrows. While talking about his role in Philly, Harden said he felt like he was on a leash, before offering a Jay-Z-esque line about how he isn’t a system player, he’s just a system, player.
James Harden says he felt like he was on a leash while on the 76ers because of the coaching staff:
“Someone that trusts me believes in me, I’m not a system player, I am a system. Someone that could have that dialog with me.”
— Farbod Esnaashari (@Farbod_E) November 2, 2023
This tracks with Doc Rivers’ recent comments where he said things turned for the Sixers last year when Harden stopped buying in to being the point guard and leading with his passing rather than his scoring. Rivers believes Harden wanted to start scoring more after being snubbed from the All-Star team, and that things deteriorated from there with the coach-player relationship after that.
Harden notes it’s not a matter of scoring as much as playing his way, and he clearly didn’t feel Rivers respected what he could do for the Sixers, while Doc seems to believe Harden’s perception of what he can provide a contender at this point might not be in line with the reality at his age. That figures to make for a fascinating dynamic in L.A., where Kawhi Leonard is the leading man with a strong No. 2 in Paul George, and what they need more than anything is Harden’s passing.
The good news is, there should be plenty of run to be had with a second unit that can be Harden’s all his own if he’d like, as he requested in Philly. If that satiates his desire to score and play his preferred style and then he falls in line with the starters, then the Clippers might just put it all together. However, we’ve said that before with Harden and he is firmly in the position of needing to prove he will do that before getting the benefit of the doubt from many.