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Enough already, it’s time for the Clippers to face their lives and trade for James Harden

The Los Angeles Clippers are nearly dead in the water in a stacked Western Conference with the Nuggets, Suns, Lakers, Warriors and other upstart teams. They may as well go all in by adding the Beard for a Big Three.

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Houston Rockets v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers are gearing up for the NBA season, but of course, as sickening as it all is, there is still the James Harden situation to sort out. It nearly broke my sports fan’s heart listening to Tyrese Maxey, with a big resigned smile, tell JJ Redick “it’s sad to say this, but this is normal for me.” And of course by THIS, the ebullient rising star means a max-level star teammate wanting nothing to do with the Philadelphia 76ers because of... reasons.

Daryl Morey once claimed he’d ride the Ben Simmons stalemate out for “four years” if he had to, but Harden is now on an expiring contract so Morey is truly on the clock if he wants to get something back for The Beard... unless he just wants to let him walk for nothing or even extend him next summer. Lol, can you imagine?

So the Sixers have some real incentive to get a trade done. The Sixers might say they’d love Harden to buy in and play hard, but there’s a real injury risk in that scenario. Remember Simmons’ disastrous “ramp-up” with the Brooklyn Nets? If the dude had tried to “ramp up” to play hoops in Philly like the team wanted, Ben might well have aggravated the back here. Heck, Ben might still be a disgruntled Sixer today if he’d tried to play back in Fall of 2021 and wound up needing back surgery.

When we heard sweet-stroke Simmons (JK) was dealing with back tightness around that time many of us rolled our eyes. And if Harden gets a “sore hamstring” or “Achilles” next week, undoubtedly, many of us will do the same again. Oh, he just wants to force a trade. But what if it were legit?

So what would you do if you were in Morey’s shoes today and the best offer on the table is some sort of Marcus Morris, Nic Batum, Robert Covington, one pick and one swap pupu platter offer from Steve Ballmer’s Boat Group?

So yeah, the Clippers may be the highest bidder for James Harden, but they are clearly still not offering enough yet to get a deal done as our Bryan Toporek argued quite persuasively.

You’ve even got Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reporting Clips’ Prez Lawrence Frank won’t even part with Terance Mann, a 27-year-old, career eight points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, half-a-steal reserve guard, eighth man in Ty Lue’s last fully healthy rotation, in a deal for the former 2018 league MVP.

Per Pompey:

“But the plan to add draft-pick swaps in a package for Harden hasn’t moved the needle for the Sixers. They’ve said they’re interested in a package that includes Clippers guard Terance Mann and first-round picks. But the source said Morey knows Mann is untouchable.”

Now if I were a Clippers fan, I’d certainly prefer to keep Mann, who is a Swiss Army Knife, plays solid defense, and has shot a solid 38 percent from three on a low volume two attempts per game, in his four-year career. But like... dude. Are you all in or not?

Sixers fans are down on James Harden right now, mostly because he doesn’t want to be here and melted down before our eyes the last two playoffs, at least in part because of an actual balky hammy and sore Achilles. The three-time scoring champ is already 34, and apparently still thinks he’s a Tier One superstar which is simply no longer the case and the reason why the Sixers’ brass didn’t want to pay him as such last July.

But sheesh, if I were the Clippers, I’d face my life here!!!

Remember what they traded to acquire Paul George?!

There’s not some magical rebuild to look forward to post-Kawhi and PG.

Now, when fans say that blockbuster is one of the worst trades in NBA history, I’m often happy to note that this was likely the conditional move they had to make in order to entice reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to sign there for the next four years. So in essence, I think that’s how this trade should actually be viewed. Rumors at the time were that Kawhi was choosing between both the Clips, Lakers and Raptors. He wouldn’t have picked the Clips without a top running mate and they knew it.

(Side bar: Also interesting to think about, is that at the time there were Marc Stein reports that Kawhi tried to recruit Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and then-free agent Jimmy Butler to join him on the Clips but that none were interested, so the team turned to PG13, who wasn’t a FA; can you even imagine if the Clippers could have simply signed both Jimmy and Kawhi while maintaining that massive picks haul plus Shai Gigeous-Alexander?)

So from a Clippers perspective, I can certainly understand why one might have reservations with the team mortgaging the two remaining tradeable firsts and a talented, valuable 3-and-D wing for an aging Bearded one.

Per Law Murray, The Athletic:

“Harden is appealing to owner Steve Ballmer because his future is directly in line with those of Leonard and George....Harden also checks some necessary boxes for both management and the coaching staff. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank has always viewed Leonard and George as “play starters.” His front office has tended to value big guards with theoretical on- and off-ball value to place alongside the star duo, and has not been eager to acquire smaller backcourt players with more limited skill sets. It doesn’t get much bigger at the guard position than Harden at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, and though Harden’s off-ball tendencies aren’t as apparent, he would at least be a credible catch-shoot threat offensively. Though the Clippers’ front office warmed up to Westbrook over the course of 2023, they’d feel more comfortable if they had another option in case anything happens to Westbrook this season.”

You might talk yourself into this team as is still having just as good of a shot as anyone if healthy. You might wonder who else might be available for similar packages as the season marches on. Would say Knicks’ forward Julius Randle be a better fit for a fraction of the cost? Malcolm Brogdon? Might the Raptors finally make available one of Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby? Who else might surprise us and hit the market? What could they get trading away their stars and having a total fire sale in rebuild?

And those are valid questions to ponder, for sure.

On the other hand, hit me Herm Edwards... you PLAY TO WIN THE GAME. Hello!

The Clippers can trim some fat off of their roster and essentially swap out Terance Mann and Nic Batum (Covington wasn’t in their rotation last year, and Morris Sr. certainly shouldn’t have been) for a guy who almost single-handedly beat the mega-talented Boston Celtics by himself in two playoff games a few months ago.

They can drastically reduce Russell Westbrook’s minutes which will be some major addition by subtraction.

They’re already apparently offering a pick and a swap... SO? Throw in Mann — who takes two triples per game at 38 percent— and get back P.J. Tucker — who shoots about two triples per game at 39 percent and call it a freakin’ win. Maybe a couple of second-rounders change hands too, whatever.

Apparently, per Shams Charania, the Clippers are shopping their own pick and swap because Morey doen’t believe L.A.’s picks are all too valuable. Morey knows stars historically flock in droves to Hollywood so it’s dicey to bet against a team like that (especially one governed by the NBA’s richest owner by a mile in Ballmer, having already proven how much he’s willing to spend to win) not replenishing their star free agent coiffers in a post-Kawhi-PG world.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Sixers actually want to flip the Clips package for a star-level guard, a rinse-repeat of their stance in the ole Simmons jawn. But that’s probably not going to happen before the season begins. Morey would probably need a team like the Chicago Bulls to get off to a rough start to free up someone like two-time All-Star Zach LaVine.

In the post-Process Era, here are the 76ers best playoff wins, all from the second round:

2019: G2, W at TOR: James “my name’s literally Jimmy” Butler

2019: G3 W over TOR, Embiid’s “airplane game”

2019: G6, Butler, Simmons lead the scoring, Embiid is a hilarious +40 as they stave off elimination vs. TOR and force quad-doink heartbreak G7

2021: G3 in ATL, Joel, Tobias Harris steal home court back from Trae Young

2021: G6 W in ATL, rookie Tyrese Maxey steps in out of f—g nowhere for a floundering Ben and delivers a G7 in PHI! A star is born!

2022: G3, W vs. MIA Embiid returns from a torn pinky, thumb and broken face in Phantom mask and anchors D

2022: G4, Harden throws back the clock throwing bomb step-backs from all over the floor knotting the series vs. MIA 2-2

2023: G1 W in BOS, Harden leads an Embiid-less group to an absolutely shocking road win, stealing home court advantage, complete with game-winner in Al Horford’s dazzling grill

2023: G4 W vs. Bos Harden leads a lackluster team performance at home to a gritty series-tying win in OT, dropping his second 40-plus point performance in which he outplayed All-NBA trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Embiid

2023: G5 W, Embiid had the jumper going and was simply unstoppable, as Maxey poures in 30 of his own as Sixers take commanding and shocking 3-2 lead back to PHI for a chance to host ECF/ and possibly even host the NBA Finals.

That’s it. There were other key wins but those were the biggest, series swinging dubs.

That’s ten Elite Eight wins dating back to when the team hired Sam Hinkie in 2013. And as you can see, Harden, only a Sixer for a total of 102 games, only a Sixer for 13 second-round games, was the hero and team’s leading scorer in three of the 10. Dude woulda been an All-Star this year if he’d returned a f—g phone call, and you can get him for Mann and stuff?!

One clean run of health for that Big Three is a big if, but I’d put them right up there with anyone if healthy. If Aaron Gordon or Kentavius Caldwell-Pope rolled an ankle, who’s to say? If Kevin Durant isn’t 100 percent by May, who’s to say? You’ve seen what Kawhi can do when healthy. Imagine him with that much potential help?

Everyone who follows the Clippers knows they’ve needed a more traditional point guard to set the table for PG and Kawhi; hell even Doc Rivers said it while shunning responsibility for another blown 3-1 lead when he was shit-canned by Ballmer — and Doc wasn’t wrong.

Kawhi’s best seasons came playing with Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry.

George’s best hoops came alongside a player like George Hill and dime-king Russell Westbrook.

Robot Claw and PG are both unstoppable alphas when healthy, but neither is ideally suited to be primary initiators at the highest levels. Both require extensive load management throughout the season.

Harden is now almost perfectly suited to be a third banana, who’d likely happily lead the league in assists for a third time, while still being capable of dropping 40 on a given night.

“He came to Brooklyn expecting to be part of a three-headed monster,” The Athletic’s Alex Schiffer once reported during Harden’s frustrating time with the Brooklyn Nets. Durant was oft hurt or load managing himself, and Kyrie Irving was... well, Kyriing.

Nick Nurse might try to offer a big three model with Maxey and Embiid, but Doc Rivers made clear that things would be heavily Embiidcentric at all times. As awesome as that pick-and-roll was/is, the Sixers needed Embiid to be a better passer and needed Harden to be a more willing catch-and-shoot threat to beat teams as talented as Miami or Boston.

L.A. wouldn’t have those challenges, since PG and Kawhi aren’t hard to get the ball to like Embiid is, and neither struggle as passers. But they can struggle as play facilitators.

It makes too much sense. There is a win-win deal to be struck here. If I were the Clippers I’d offer a pick, a swap, Mann, a few expirings and ask for Harden and Tucker and a couple seconds. If two picks have to go, protect one like Fort Knox. L.A. is definitely not going to win it as currently constructed and that’ll tempt their stars to flee. But with James in the fold, they could afford to load manage one of their big three as often as they like, preserving the health of all three for that one deep run they’ve literally never had yet to have since 2019. If you’re not all in with an aging two time Finals MVP, what are ya doing?

As for Philly, they may not have a LaVine deal lined up, but if they can get that type of modest but not exciting return, I say it’s worth the gamble.

Let’s all face our lives here, people. Terance Mann is closer to Bruce Brown than he is Jimmy Butler. Be honest. Lawrence Frank, Mr. Ballmer, dramatically enhance your title odds in one fell swoop by landing a masterful offensive player and please put us all out of our misery.

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