This offseason, James Harden perfected his signature move.
First he emulated the basketball world (by accepting his player option), took a step back (from the Sixers and then pursued his old associate Daryl Morey in China), then petitioned officials to save him by paving his way into the Clippers to force. (instead of the charity stripe). Beard’s arrival in LA felt as inevitable as it did manipulating the referees and the rule book at its peak. As if watching him throw himself into the defenders, Harden getting his way made everyone feel sick.
The good news is that the Clippers got their point guard. The Clippers are now a volatile amalgamation of enigmatic superstars. Chemistry be damnedwill have to coach Tyronn Lue and serve as talent manager. Wings Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the veteran versions of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If the Lakers are the mercenary organization that attracts universally respected iconic stars, the Clippers have to be the NBA’s biggest contenders. No one is going to feel good watching the Clippers hoist a Larry O’Brien trophy except Clipper Darrell. Even a majority of Los Angeles residents would prefer to root for the Lakers.
Ironically, their stars are prodigal sons who started their careers as plucky underdogs. Palmdale’s George and Riverside’s Leonard were not offered scholarships by UCLA, so they ended up at Fresno State and San Diego State, respectively. But Leonard suppressed all his goodwill by talking his way out of San Antonio and has since become the metonym for load management. He is also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. For two years they were too injured to shine in the one-box.
Long Beach native Russell Westbrook and Lakewood’s Harden are the new additions. Both can be their own team’s worst enemy. Off the court, no one has ever had anything bad to say about Westbrook’s leadership. But in the middle of the hustle and bustle, he stands like a live wire near a busy swimming pool.
Los Angeles’ homecoming team spent four years assembling a primetime cast of self-made locals when they opened their $2 billion Inglewood arena in 2024. For better or worse, Clipper Nation got what they wanted with sparkling talent on the floor and a temperamental star off. of it. Harden has spread his drama across four organizations. How he teams up with Westbrook for a third time will be a fascinating development to watch. Harden reportedly pushed for the Rockets to trade Westbrook the last time they aligned, and a month later the organization calmed him down, accelerating their own demise.
The scrutiny on the pair will be even more intense as Westbrook will have to play more off the ball while Harden is on the floor, watching his usage decline. This time they will have to get George and Harden involved in the attack.
At the heart of all this will be George’s impending free agency if he decides to opt out and earn one last max contract payday, and Harden’s expiring contract. Harden is playing for his last $200 million payday of his own. On the one hand, that should be enough motivation for him to do everything in his power to make this work. On the other hand, we haven’t seen Harden on a court since he went 3-for-11 from the field in Game 7 against Boston.
The Clippers have managed to retain Terance Mann and Norm Powell, and while there is a plethora of overlapping talent, acquiring Harden has raised their ceiling as long as they remain healthy. Leonard and George’s bodies tend to break down as the postseason approaches.
The last time Harden was on a paper dragon of this nature, a Harden hamstring injury and Kyrie Irving’s cantankerous personality helped those Nets sabotage themselves internally. That team assembled too many strange personalities, but they also had the firepower to win it all.
The Clippers have given them the edge on both fronts.
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