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July 19, 2023

Report: James Harden intends to play for Clippers 'no matter the Sixers' wishes'

Clippers or bust is the message Harden and his representation are pushing, according to a report from Yahoo Sports.

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James-Harden-Sixers-Celtics-Playoffs-May-2023-NBA.jpg Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Sixers guard James Harden during the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

The Sixers are not going to trade James Harden just to end the standoff with their star guard as quickly as possible. And that same star guard has shown the ability to put up a stink and force his way to a new home when he desires one. Those competing factors could set up a showdown between Harden and his current team over the coming months, until or unless the Sixers move Harden to his preferred destination.

Clippers or bust? That's the message Harden and his representation are pushing, according to the latest reporting from Jake Fischer over at Yahoo Sports:

Let’s be clear: No matter the Sixers’ wishes, Harden still intends to play for the Clippers during the [2023-24] season, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Since the beginning of this subplot, Harden and his representation opted in to pinpoint Los Angeles as his next destination and have maintained a confidence he will ultimately join the Clippers. There has been no substantial trade conversation for Philadelphia regarding Harden and any other team, sources said, as rival front offices have been briefed on Harden’s unwavering focus on the Clippers and the Clippers alone. The 76ers have held talks with other teams and have established their high asking price for the league's assist leader.

To Harden’s credit, the Clippers do make sense. Los Angeles had been active before February’s trade deadline, and again during the early stretch of the offseason, searching for upgrades at the Clippers’ lead guard position. The team nearly traded for Celtics ball-handler Malcolm Brodgon before June’s NBA Draft. And Harden’s side sees Los Angeles’ roster — with young blue-chippers like Terance Mann and valuable postseason contributors like Norman Powell — plus a collection of usable contracts and first-round draft capital to make a deal happen. One that could still satisfy Philadelphia’s requirement that any Harden return salvages as large of a championship window for the Sixers as possible.

Philadelphia hasn’t shared that purview. And by all accounts, the Clippers don’t have interest in parting with Mann. [Yahoo]

The Clippers, as we reported in late June, were putting in the groundwork on the Harden situation prior to the reveal that he wanted out of Philadelphia. Conversations between the two teams took place prior to the opening of free agency, sources say, though at that time it was tough to understand why. The Clippers have continued to feature prominently in the Harden story this offseason, though as Fischer notes in his story, the strength of their offer(s) have not been close to the valuation Philly has in mind for Harden.

At this juncture, I think you could argue both sides of this fight are acting rationally. The Sixers view Harden as a high-level player, haven't received an offer that they believe matches his production, and don't want to make a trade for the sake of doing so. Harden wants to go to a specific team, has communicated his desire to do so, opted into his deal to facilitate a move that would have otherwise been impossible, and (as of now) is waiting to see what the Sixers do. You could say the Sixers are being unrealistic about the potential return for Harden, or that Harden has misplaced anger as a result of his limited free agency options, but big picture, you can understand where everyone is coming from.

The question that will be asked repeatedly over the next two months is whether cooler heads can prevail if a suitable deal isn't available for Harden. There is the assumption that Harden's ability/willingness to make a situation uncomfortable will manifest again, even if he appears to be running out of time and leverage to do things his way. Fischer notes in his story that Harden is currently expected to report to training camp if he remains on the roster that long, with the caveat that you can cause more trouble in person than at home.

We've seen Daryl Morey sit through an extraordinarily awkward situation before in order to get the biggest trade return possible, but with Joel Embiid grumbling and pressure mounting, it's a wonder how long he's willing to let the game of chicken play out. It has been somewhat uneasy, with many expecting the situation to grow more and more hostile as time wears on.

(If you provided Sixers staffers with truth serum, they would probably point to "developments" this week as examples of the heat being turned up, as phrases like "fractured relationship" are floated into the discourse at other media outlets.)

On Tuesday, Morey's interview with Anthony Gargano seemed to indicate he'll play this game as long as it takes, noting fans care too much about the roster in July and that they wouldn't back down from their trade standards. 

"If we don’t get either a very good player or something we can turn into a very good player, then we're just not going to do it," Morey said Tuesday. "If James were to turn his mind around, we would all be thrilled. You've heard Joel's comments about that. But at this moment he prefers to be traded, and we are attempting to honor that.

Whether that's a game Morey can win is another story. He has to either convince Harden to set aside his current anger and be a good soldier for the team, or convince the one team Harden is known to want to play for to pony up the assets to meet their bid. This is not like the Ben Simmons situation, or either the Damian Lillard situation, in that there is a limited timeframe to execute a deal. Philadelphia can talk up their dreams of cap space and maximum flexibility next summer, and they believe in the value of future planning, but they are also under great pressure to compete right now, which was true even before Joel Embiid's eyebrow-raising comments to Maverick Carter.

The next couple of months on the NBA calendar are a relative dead period, with much of the league on vacation in the lead-up to training camp in September. The Sixers will be one of the few teams inspiring headlines in that rest period, a fact that Harden and his representation can use to their advantage. The Sixers' front office is comfortable weathering that storm, but try to make sure you keep that in mind, too, lest you lose your fan sanity over a theoretical 

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