On Sunday, the Los Angeles Clippers suffered their fifth straight loss, this time getting their hearts broken by the Memphis Grizzlies. Prior to this game, Memphis was 1-8, the worst record in the NBA.
LA has yet to win a game in November, as well with their newly acquired star James Harden. Their struggles are showing no signs of letting up, and as the days go on, the trade looks worse and worse. The Philadelphia 76ers, Harden’s previous team, have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
To put it lightly, it’s looking like a disaster thus far.
There are two realizations fans need to come to. The first is that James Harden, as good an individual player as he is, is not a winner, and ultimately cannot capture a championship with his style of play. The 34-year-old has an MVP, absurd scoring stats, and an individual resume more than good enough for the Hall of Fame. However, there is one major black mark on his career: his playoff struggles.
More often than not, Harden turns into a shell of himself when spring rolls around. Four Conference Finals appearances, two prior to his rise to stardom, and two losses as the main option.
I can appreciate Harden’s days as a Houston Rocket because he was the catalyst of a team that nearly reached greatness twice. He was the reason they were so offensively elite and he played his best brand of basketball from 2016 to 2020. However, it’s the behind-the-scenes stories that also falter his career, especially as of late.
Prior to a 144-126 loss to the Mavericks, Dallas’s Bally Sports announcer Brian Dameris said it perfectly.
The ten-time All-Star has no doubt one of the best statistical resumes ever, but it’s evident that he can’t win a championship because he blames everyone else for his team’s shortcomings, when in reality, he is nowhere near perfect when it matters.
Forcing three trades in three years, yet never making it past the second round in that time frame is bad enough, but as Dameris mentioned, it spans further than that.
Then-GM Daryl Morey gave all that he could to Harden in Houston: Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, all in or just out of their primes. Then, he forced a trade to create, at the time, one of the best on-paper superteams in NBA history to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. After that didn’t work, Morey, now with the 76ers, paired The Beard with the reigning MVP in Joel Embiid, perhaps the best teammate he’s ever had. That didn’t work either, and after drama with the organization over the summer, he forced a trade to the Clippers, where they’re already showing struggles with him on the floor.
This trade, although completed not even a month ago, is already looking to be added to their list of questionable moves. The team unloaded their depth, Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, and K.J. Martin, plus draft capital for Harden, P.J. Tucker, and Fillip Petrusev.
Before that, LA signed another ball-dominant player in Russell Westbrook after being traded and released. A few years prior, the organization unloaded its entire future for Paul George.
Since trading for George and signing Kawhi Leonard, the team has had one Conference Finals appearance. Yikes.
When will general managers realize that three ball-dominant players don’t work in the same system? The Nets tried this two years ago with the very player we are talking about right now. It didn’t work.
At least Harden was a phenomenal playmaker with the 76ers. Last season, he averaged 10.7 assists, good for first in the league. As good as he was a passer, he needed to score sufficiently enough as the second option but scored just 9 points in Game 7 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The 2023 assist champion will need to replicate this if he wants his first ring. So far, he’s averaging 14.3 points and 4.7 assists, with no signs of elite play in either of those statistical categories. Yes, it’s early, but if this continues, Harden could be out of the City of Angels before we know it, and at that point, what team would want him?