James Harden and the Clippers got what they wanted, but what about the Sixers?

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By Samantha Rose

In the end, everyone basically got what they wanted. James Harden is now a member of the LA Clippers. The Philadelphia 76ers now have more assets. The Clippers get a dynamic offensive player who can give their offense a bit more verve and provides some insurance for the inevitable Kawhi Leonard or Paul George injury.

Those are the surface-level takeaways now that the Sixers have agreed to send Harden to the Clippers.

The deal, which was first reported by ESPN and has since been confirmed to FOX Sports by a Sixers source, sends Harden to the Clippers in exchange for a package centered around future draft picks (more on that below). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more for us to unpack.

Here are a few bigger picture takeaways from the deal:


James Harden (and his representatives) won

This part cannot be overstated. For one, he got traded to the team he wanted, which, as we saw during the whole Damian Lillard saga, is no longer something guaranteed to stars who demand deals. And, given how much the Clippers just surrendered for him, he’s now in a better position to cash in on a mega contract this offseason after his current deal expires than he was had he remained in Philly.

It’s also worth pointing out how well Harden played his cards. He created enough havoc (missing media day, skipping parts of training camp, not playing during the preseason and not making clear if he’d be willing to suit up during the regular season) to force the Sixers’ hand, but not enough to hurt his wallet. According to Sixers sources, Harden was not fined for any of his absences.

We know Daryl Morey, the Sixers president of basketball operations, is someone willing to play hard ball and wait for an A+ return; we saw him do so two years ago with Ben Simmons. So why’d he jump at this solid-but-unspectacular deal? This is only conjecture, but it’s fair to assume that he and the team were worried about the sort of damage that could come from moving forward with Harden on the roster.

[Emotion vs. Analytics: Why James Harden and Daryl Morey were always destined to implode]

As recently as July, it looked like Harden could soon be headed on a Russell Westbrook-like trajectory — one of these ball-dominant former-stars who, very suddenly, found himself with nothing on the table but minimum offers. It’s possible that things in LA implode and Harden burns one too many bridges. But the odds are now in his favor, something that a few months ago was not the case.

Clippers acquire James Harden in blockbuster trade with 76ers

Clippers acquire James Harden in blockbuster trade with 76ers

Daryl Morey settled

Let’s be clear. This DOES NOT mean he failed or that the Sixers got a poor return. Morey extracted a nice haul from the Clippers. A 2028 unprotected first-round pick from a team stocked with aging, injury-prone stars is a great asset. So is the 2029 pick swap. The two second-round picks are nice. Marcus Morris, Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum give the current roster some nice wing depth and versatility — and all three are on mid-level expiring deals, meaning they can be easily used in trades or turned into offseason cap room. The 22-year-old KJ Martin, a 6-foot-6 forward who averaged 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 28 minutes per game last season for the Houston Rockets, is a solid prospect.

But the second first-round pick coming the Sixers’ way is where it seems like Morey might have backed off his preferences, at least a bit. Morey’s stance all along was that the Clippers had to either give the Sixers two unprotected first-round picks or one unprotected first and Terance Mann. Mann is not in this deal. Instead, the Sixers are getting an additional first via the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s for 2026, where the Thunder own their own first, plus the Clippers’ pick, plus a top-four protected pick from the Rockets; the Sixers, according to a team source, will get the worst of the bunch. Given the current trajectories of all those teams, odds are that this turns into a late first-round pick. Which is fine, but it doesn’t hold the upside of a purely unprotected pick.

Again, that doesn’t mean the Sixers lost this trade. But it does indicate that Morey and the Sixers were just ready for this whole saga to end.

The Sixers are in great shape

None of what’s written above means the Sixers are in bad shape, or that Morey did a bad job. They still have MVP Joel Embiid, who looks as dominant as ever. Tyrese Maxey looks like he’s going to be an All-Star this season, and might enter the All-NBA conversation. Maxey making yet another leap means the Sixers might already have the sort of one-two punch that’s good enough to carry a team into contention.

If Morey can turn all these picks into another All-Star, or use the $50 million-$65 million in cap space that the team will have in the offseason to sign another star (OG Anunoby, who’s in the final year of his contract with Toronto, would be a great fit, either in a trade or as a free agent in the summer), the Sixers will be right in the mix and, depending on who that third player is, younger than they were with Harden at the helm. Not only will that keep them in contention, but it should keep Embiid happy. 

It’s now or never for the Clippers

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have player options for next season, meaning they could be free agents, and it’s hard to imagine either player suiting up for the Clippers without a long-term extension in hand. Harden now enters the fray as another expiring deal. If this group falls short once again, it’s hard to imagine owner Steve Ballmer green-lighting any sort of lucrative contracts.

The Clippers might have just plugged their biggest hole

If you want to know why the Clippers are rolling the dice on Harden, here’s a stat for you: 114.4. That’s how many points per possession they averaged last season in the half court, according to Cleaning the Glass. That was the eighth-worst mark in the NBA — and was actually an improvement from the previous season, when they had the league’s sixth-worst half-court offense.

[2023 NBA odds: James Harden trade to Clippers shifts title odds]

Harden, for all his faults, is one of the greatest shot-creators in the history of the sport. He might not be the player he once was, but he’s still someone who averaged 21 points and a league-best 10.7 assists per game last season, and helped transform Embiid into an unstoppable offensive force. Clippers head coach Ty Lue has his work cut out for him in terms of figuring out ways for Leonard, George and Harden to jell, but the Clippers can now be sure that, when healthy, they’ll have two dynamic scorers on the court at all times.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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