The LA Clippers have been more active in their pursuit of James Harden as the regular season approaches. However, a deal may or may not get done due to haggling over the assets. The Sixers want Terrance Mann and two first-round picks, while the Clippers have reportedly drawn a line in terms of what they will offer.
For Philly, trading Harden isn’t as simple as just getting the best deal. They plan to have major cap space in the summer of 2024 to retool around MVP Joel Embiid, meaning that they don’t want to take back long-term salary. Luckily for the Clippers, they can match salaries in a Harden deal by trading the expiring salaries of Marcus Morris, Nic Batum, and Robert Covington, as well as two firsts. However, none of those players help the Sixers win now, even if those picks would help the Sixers move on from their second-best player in the long run.
The Clippers playing hardball with Philadelphia could put the Sixers in a bind.
Taking a step back after moving Harden is likely inevitable, but taking the Clippers’ presumed offer would essentially mean that the Sixers would be punting on this season. With Harden applying internal pressure and no other obvious trade partners, they probably don’t have much of a choice. Also, it’s not like the Sixers would be able to compete with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics this season.
All that makes it seem like a smart decision for the Clippers to cap their offer and put the ball in Philly’s court. They can decline the offer, which would force them to deal with Harden and his increasing antics.
That could not only tank his value further but also potentially turn Embiid against the team. Or, they could take the Clippers’ offer, possibly including the two first-round picks, do their best to compete this year, and try to reload next summer.
That deal isn’t without risk for the Clippers, who are already out of quite a few draft assets from the Paul George trade, and giving up two more for an aging star could blow up in their face. On the other hand, despite Harden dropping off from his peak, he is still an all-star caliber player and wants to play in LA.
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If they were to trade for him, he would probably be on his best behavior, especially since he’d be playing with two other stars, Kawhi Leonard and George, as well as former teammate Russell Westbrook. Thus, the Clippers are right to pursue Harden and their take-it-or-leave-it strategy could ensure they don’t overpay for him.