Harden, 34, averaged 21 points, 6.1 rebounds and a league-best 10.7 assists per game last season for the 76ers, who lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third straight season. Armed with a player option, Harden entered the summer expecting a major payday in free agency that never materialized.
With limited leverage, Harden elected to pick up his $35.6 million option and request a trade rather than enter free agency, thereby setting up a standoff with Philadelphia 76ers President Daryl Morey.
Morey, who was only interested in trading Harden if the return package bolstered Philadelphia’s contention hopes, was unable to find a deal before training camp opened. As the initial talks fizzled, Harden repeatedly threatened in August to “never be a part of an organization” that employed Morey and he skipped the team’s media day and its first day of training camp before relenting and joining the team. The NBA fined Harden $100,000 for his pointed comments about Morey, which included calling the longtime NBA executive a “liar.”
As the start of the regular season approached, Harden again separated from the 76ers for an extended period of time and was not with the team during its season-opening road loss against the Milwaukee Bucks last Thursday. Harden did sit on the bench during Philadelphia’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, but he has yet to suit up this season.
This isn’t the first time in recent history Harden has used sharp-elbowed tactics to change teams. The three-time scoring champion reported late to the Houston Rockets during the 2020-21 season and expressed his frustration with the organization’s direction. Houston traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in January 2021, but he lasted just 13 months alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. After passing on a long-term extension to remain in Brooklyn, Harden became frustrated with the Nets’ lack of continuity and sat out with a hamstring injury in the days before he was traded to Philadelphia in February 2022.
Harden, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, played just 80 regular season games for the Nets and 79 games for the 76ers. In Los Angeles, he will join a veteran team that reached the 2021 Western Conference finals but has been held back by recurring injuries to Leonard and George over the past two seasons. This will be the third time Harden has played with Westbrook following shared stints with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Rockets.
After missing the 2022 playoffs and losing to the Phoenix Suns in the first round last season, the Clippers were willing to gamble on the mercurial Harden because they have lacked sufficient backcourt playmakers to complement Leonard and George, their two franchise wings.
Billionaire owner Steve Ballmer has sought to elevate the Clippers and will open the lavish Intuit Dome in Inglewood, Calif., for the 2024-25 season, and Harden’s arrival should boost the team’s short-term outlook in the Western Conference standings. Los Angeles, which is off to a 2-1 start, had made no other additions of consequence this offseason after shuffling its roster and adding Westbrook at the February trade deadline.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, must cope with another failed star partnership for Joel Embiid, the reigning MVP and scoring champion. Embiid, 29, has teamed with the likes of Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Harden over the past five years, and the co-star role will now fall to 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey, who averaged 30.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists during the first three games and was named Eastern Conference player of the week on Monday. Philadelphia enters Tuesday’s action with a 2-1 record.
Batum, Morris and Covington will arrive in Philadelphia with contracts that expire at the end of this season. Tucker, 38, will join the Clippers holding an $11.5 million player option for the 2024-25 season.