Clippers go all in, Harden’s trade threatens player empowerment

James Harden has forced his way out of Philadelphia, making the Los Angeles Clippers his fourth team in four seasons. The inability for a player of his magnitude to remain with one franchise leaves the future of the NBA uncertain. Will the next young stars follow Harden’s path, or will they reject it? 

Harden’s globetrotting saga began in Houston, where he became the superstar that fans have come to know. After several years of missing the finals, Harden wanted out. Prior to the 2020-21 regular season, Harden was intentionally absent from the Rockets preseason camp. He would post pictures of himself partying with rap stars at clubs while his teammates were busy getting conditioned for the season ahead. After months of drama and public dispute, the Rockets granted Harden his wish and traded the former MVP to the Brooklyn Nets. 

For Harden’s sake, the best thing he can do is win a championship this season. Time after time, he has failed to lead his team to the finals, and joining new teams hasn’t gotten him any closer. 

Harden joined a star-studded nets roster with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Together they were arguably the most skilled trio that the league has ever seen. The Nets made the playoffs that season, but lost Irving to an ankle sprain, and Harden battled through a lingering hamstring strain. Durant was outmatched by the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Nets lost to Giannis Antetokounmpo and company in overtime in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

The trio returned for the 2021-22 season with high hopes. The Nets were playing good basketball, even with Irving missing home games due to the league’s vaccination policy. But that was not enough to satisfy Harden. In February, he abruptly shifted gears and made it clear that he wanted out. With the trade deadline ticking, the Nets front office was put in a hard situation, and begrudgingly traded the star to the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Harden arrived in Philadelphia soon after, reuniting with his former general manager, Daryl Morey. Harden spent the next two seasons failing to live up to expectations alongside his MVP teammate Joel Embiid. After expecting a trade this offseason, Harden became publicly frustrated with the 76ers and Daryl Morey, saying that he “will never be a part of an organization that [Morey’s] a part of.” This statement made things awkward for the franchise, and trading Harden seemed to be the only way to break the tension. On Oct. 31, Harden was traded to the Clippers, where he has yet to win a game. 

Harden’s short leash with teams has left league officials wondering how to prevent this from happening in the future. Having superstars sitting out over trade requests is not the image that the league wants to convey. Establishing rules to combat this issue will not be easy, however. The NBA Players Association is arguably the best in sports, and they will be sure to appeal any rules that take away their power. 

For Harden’s sake, the best thing he can do is win a championship this season. Time after time, he has failed to lead his team to the finals, and joining new teams hasn’t gotten him any closer. 

On paper, the Clippers look amazing. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Harden all in the same starting lineup seems like a dream come true. Yet, in their five games together, they have not been victorious. Luckily, the season is still young and there is a lot of time to build chemistry. However, the odds are not on their side. 

Leonard and George have constantly been sidelined with injuries in the regular season, and Harden does not have a great track record in the playoffs. It would be foolish to call them title favorites right now. The Western Conference alone has enough teams with better odds of making a title run. The Denver Nuggets are the reigning champions, and they show no signs of slowing down. Even teams like the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have the starpower to match up with the Clippers lineup. 

The Clippers have had a championship caliber roster dating back to the fall of 2019 and have yet to make it to the Finals. Their window for success is rapidly closing. If they fail once again, it will be a long offseason for Harden and the Clippers.


Featured photo courtesy of @sixers, X