As always at 213 Hoops, we get the staff to discuss and grade the Clippers’ moves, with this one being the James Harden trade.
Niels Pineda: B+
On a team where roster consolidation was sorely needed, this move allowed us to trade 4 players competing for 1-2 bench spots into James Harden and PJ Tucker (who would also be competing for that bench spot). This trade has been unsurprisingly controversial, but whatever critiques I personally have of James Harden are completely overshadowed by one really simple fact: he’s a really good basketball player. The fit on the starters looks a bit shaky, but games are won over 4 quarters. This move now allows us to keep one of 213 out there at all times alongside a legitimate facilitator and playmaker in Russ or Harden. In terms of what we lost, there are things that the Clippers will absolutely miss about the lost players (Nico’s defensive length, RoCo’s unreasonably quick hands, and KJM’s youth and potential on an old team), but the main concern is obviously pushing our draft capital out even further. As someone who believes the draft is largely luck outside of the truly top, top talents, I’m not too concerned because pick swaps still guarantee that we will be selecting someone on draft night.
Erik Olsgaard: B+
I have mixed emotions about this trade. On the one hand, I really enjoyed watching the Clippers in their current form dismantle the Blazers and Spurs in absurdly dominant fashion. Those games felt like the direct result of a full training camp and a new pace-pushing, defense-minded identity. Even though it wasn’t perfect, in stretches I could see the potential of that iteration of the Clippers, and I wanted another dozen games to figure out if that potential was going to be realized. On the other hand, I really did NOT enjoy watching the Clippers look like last year’s mediocre team against the only decent team they’ve played so far: the Jazz. That game made me worried that the success against the Blazers (and subsequently the Spurs) was just fool’s gold. Even though there were bright moments, in stretches I could see the low ceiling of that iteration of the Clippers, and I wanted a change as soon as possible.
In the end, I see this trade as an overall upgrade. By keeping Terance Mann, there are still lineups that can achieve what we saw defensively against Portland and San Antonio. And by adding James Harden, that low ceiling has vaulted into the stratosphere. Harden is the best passer the Clippers have had since Chris Paul, and when he wants to be a distributor first, he can get his teammates open better than most anyone in the league. The idea of Kawhi and PG getting open shots that they don’t have to manufacture themselves is something we’ve seen flashes of with Russell Westbrook, but something we’ll get a steady diet of with Harden. And PJ Tucker plays basketball too.
Daniel Olinger: B+
I understand concern over what this trade might have done to the long-term outlook for the Clippers. Giving up that many picks and banking on three stars who all have ages on the wrong side of 30 doesn’t project well for what the 2028-32 Los Angeles Clippers will look like. But LAC was already looking toward a rather grim future post-Kawhi and PG prior to the James Harden trade. When the Clippers made their first midnight transaction frenzy years ago in the summer of 2019, the goal was clear — win the NBA title. Through a number of twists and turns, this Clippers team has still not done that, nor have they even reached the NBA Finals, all while entering the fifth season of this era. In trading for Harden, LAC gets one of the very passers and creators in the NBA, while still managing to keep their five best players on the current team (Kawhi, PG, Westbrook, Zubac, Mann).
Going from Nicolas Batum and Robert Covington to P.J. Tucker as the reserve forward is a definite downgrade, but peak star talent and shot creators are vital in the playoffs, and the Clippers have three of the most talented players in the NBA. This trade could come back to bite the franchise in a half-decade or so, but the Clippers shouldn’t be making decisions based on what might happen a long time from now. They need to be making moves to maximize their chances of winning a title with this current core, and trading for James Harden gave them the best chance to do that.
Ralston Dacanay: A-
Beyond the obvious upsides that come with adding James Harden, I think it’s been understated how much the Clippers were able to minimize the risk involved in this deal. Mind you, I’ve been someone who’s believed the Clippers simply could not run it back with the same collection of vets this season and expect to be title contenders. And while starting Terance Mann and ousting Marcus Morris Sr. from the rotation so far was actually looking quite pleasant, to me, there’s just no denying that the Clippers would have a much higher ceiling to work with Harden in the mix.
Now, after weeks and weeks of hearing, “There’s no way the Clippers could get Harden without giving up Mann or their own two unprotected first-round picks.” It actually happened! LAC finally got its consolidation trade sending Morris Sr. out the door, and they didn’t have to trade Terance or their 2030 first. This trade would’ve been perfect if the Clippers somehow could’ve kept Robert Covington or gotten this done before training camp, but realistically speaking, I think this is about as good of a value as it gets. Sure, trading for a guy who has historically flamed out of the playoffs, torched his last two stops on the way out, and is set to be an unrestricted free agent means this isn’t an automatic home run (hence, why I respected the Clippers for reportedly making a strong run at Jrue Holiday.) But, considering how much of a “last dance” season this year was already shaping up to be for the Clips, what they possibly could’ve acquired mid-season, and the relatively light package that they ended up having to give up, I think it makes a lot of sense.
I will be interested to see what type of role PJ Tucker plays, how the pieces fit, and what the Clippers end up doing with their two open roster spots. But, for now, I do think LAC can potentially get to a level that legitimately puts them in the conversation for the crown again. Best of luck to RoCo, Nicolas Batum, KJ Martin, and Morris Sr.!
Lucas Hann: B+
I suppose I’ll sound spoiled and that no deal is ever perfect, but looking past the obvious monumental win of landing James Harden while also keeping Terance Mann, something many of us weren’t sure was possible, there’s just enough to not like here to keep me away from an A. The first is the positional combination of guys LAC lost here–four forwards (one of whom was beyond contributing). PJ Tucker is going to be less productive as a Clipper than Nico Batum or Robert Covington would have been in a very similar role, and the extra year on his contract will make it harder to make further adjustments to the roster this year. Keeping the 2030 first round pick is huge, but giving up the 2029 swap (instead of having the obligations end in 2028) will stretch the capabilities of this aging big three beyond reasonable expectations. In the aggregate, though, this is a massive win for the Clippers, who not only get the clear 3rd best player we’ve asked for for years, but a legitimate third star who produced at an All-NBA level last season.
Shapan Debnath: B+
I badly want to give this an A-, but as James Harden is a known diva, I’ll keep it in check a bit. What has been glaring to me is that, while LAC has repeatedly out-efforted teams early this season to run and get transition baskets off of turnovers, it’s a recipe that has shown to not last come postseason. As much as his recent quote will be mangled, LAC *does* need a system, as their offense through Russell Westbrook, particularly in crunch time, has become far too predictable. Having a player that’s not only willing but efficiently able to run offense will do a world of good to this team, and LAC has decided to put their chips in, early, into the tail end of Kawhi Leonard’s prime, with a guard specifically designed to make his life more easy and sustainable this season and next. That is the priority of the rest of this era.
Robert Flom: A-
The Clippers are trying to win a championship this season. Whether they should still be trying to do so with this core is another question, but that’s the goal. In that context, the James Harden trade is a massive win for the Clippers. Nic Batum and Robert Covington are nice role players, and KJ Martin is an interesting young guy, but James Harden was a near All-NBA caliber player last year who offers shooting, playmaking, and creation the Clippers need. He’s a regular season floor raiser who, despite major issues in the playoffs, is also the caliber of player who will boost their postseason ceiling as well. Giving up the 2028 pick and swaps in 2027 and 2029 (that top 3 protection is a bonus though) along with those players is legitimately a lot – but keeping the 2030 1st, Terance Mann, and Bones Hyland makes this a very, very fair deal. Are the Clippers favored against Denver or Boston? No. But they’re more likely to stay out of the play-in tournament and grab homecourt advantage now, and have increased firepower to match those top teams. A needed deal if the goal is still a championship.
David Mendez-Yapkowitz: B
There’s something to be said for building and maintaining a culture and chemistry. Nico Batum, Robert Covington, and yes, even Marcus Morris contributed to that over the past couple of seasons for the Clippers. But it’s not hard to see why the Clippers made this trade for James Harden. The roster prior to the deal was just not championship caliber. That’s not so much a knock on the Clippers, more so like the state of the Western Conference where you have the Denver Nuggets…and everyone else. The Clippers needed to make a trade if they wanted any sort of chance at seriously competing with the Nuggets, and when you can add a third star like James Harden, you make that deal 99 percent of the time. This team is trying to maximize their championship window with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as much as possible. Not only is Harden an elite scoring option, he’s been a very good playmaker as well. Now it’s just up Tyronn Lue to figure out how to make this all work.
Kenneth Armstrong: B+
This trade is a ceiling raiser, but it could very well lower the floor dramatically. Specifically, Harden provides scoring fire-power and playmaking. But the Clippers’ roster is now badly unbalanced (again): too many guards. I also fear that Russell Westrbook will have to go through yet another identity crisis—something that I thought was settled coming into this year. Hopefully the Clippers can find a way to bring in another “4” in the Covington/ Batum mold. Even with PJ Tucker coming back in the trade, I am afraid we’ll be looking at another season of small-ball lineups that cannot guard or share the ball effectively.
Cole Huff: A-
I’ll be the gutsy one here. You bring in the third star that us fans have felt was needed for the better part of the past season and a half, 213 + Ty get the pick and roll/playmaking point guard they’ve practically begged for, and you retain all of your young (and good) role players for depth and potential trade deadline purposes. The fit with James and Russ on the court together stops me from making this an A, and so do the departures of Nico Batum and Robert Covington for a lesser version of them in PJ Tucker. But at the end of the day the front office moved all their chips to the center for a make-or-break season. I can’t be mad at that.