Despite Critics, Harden Trade Boosts Clippers to Title-Contender Status

Pat Pickens
Last Updated: Oct 31, 2023

The Los Angeles Clippers have all the makings of a super team.

Their roster now features two former league MVPs, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and 27 collective All-NBA appearances. Their coach has a .584 career win percentage, three Finals appearances, and oversaw a title-winner that upset arguably the greatest team of all time.

So why doesn’t the public believe the Clippers are a championship contender?

In acquiring James Harden in a blockbuster deal with the Philadelphia 76ers early Tuesday morning, LA president Lawrence Frank brought in one of the greatest players in league history.

Harden is a 10-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA performer, three-time scoring champ, and two-time assist leader. He’s also still on the right side of 35.

Plus, Frank offloaded just two rotation players, Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum, who have combined for 5.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in about 20 minutes per game — and each player is in his 30s and on an expiring contract.

There are questions about the Clippers’ age and future since Frank parted with future draft capital. There are concerns about Harden’s commitment since he’s about to play for his fourth team in less than four years.

However, Harden should be ready to roll playing in his preferred destination — and at home, since he was born in Los Angeles and played at Artesia High School in Lakewood, California, which retired his number in 2021.

Plus, Year 1 of the Harden experience has been an unmitigated success in each of his two prior stops. He carried the Brooklyn Nets to the East’s No. 2 seed in 2020-21 by averaging 24.6 points, 10.9 assists, and 8.6 rebounds in 36 games.

If not for his hamstring injury or Kevin Durant’s infamous toe on the line in Game 7 vs the Bucks, Brooklyn may have won the title that season.

He also dominated during his 79-game tenure with the 76ers, scoring 21 points while adding 10-plus rebounds and more than six boards per game in parts of two seasons.

Questions about his work ethic persist, but Harden has averaged at least 35 minutes per game in 11 straight seasons. If he shows up in shape, Harden will take some of the load off fellow veteran superstars Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook.

Cynics say Harden has a knack for disappearing in the playoffs. The hamstring injury for Brooklyn was proof of this, as was his dreadful final two games in Philadelphia’s seven-game series loss to Boston last spring. His critics would say he hasn’t won a championship for a reason.

But that’s where Harden can lean on guys like Leonard, who carried a far inferior cast to the 2019 title in Toronto; or George, who can play more freely without the pressure of being a No. 1 or No. 2 option.

Every NBA lead dog wants to be the alpha, but basketball is a team game. If one or two of LA’s superstars struggle, there’s still at least two more to pick up the slack — or role players like P.J. Tucker, also acquired with Harden, who seems to be playing deep into the postseason each year.

Maybe the cynicism stems from the beaten-down Clippers fans, who haven’t even seen their team in the Finals in 54 years of play between Buffalo, San Diego, and now the City of Angels.

But the Nuggets had never been to the Finals, either, until they got over the hump and won it all this past spring. The Bucks had gone 50 years between titles before Giannis Antetokounmpo carried them to their championship in 2021. The Phoenix Suns still have never won a championship, but that hasn’t stopped their fans from buying in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not guaranteeing a Clippers title parade. The Western Conference is loaded. The Nuggets and Suns pose legitimate threats, and the Warriors and Lakers are still looming as well.

But if you’re a Clippers fan who was unmoved by the decision to acquire a superstar player for spare parts, don’t listen to the critics. It’s okay to buy in and believe the hype.


Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered the NHL since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times,,, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

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