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Plenty of Tricks, Treats in James Harden Trade

It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows the NBA that James Harden has been traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s really just been a matter of time and details. Now that the deal is done, just in time for Halloween, let’s take a look at some tricks and treats of the trade.

Los Angeles Clippers

Treats: This is essentially a dare-to-be great move made to maximize the end of Paul George’s prime and what should be the middle of Kawhi Leonard’s. James Harden may have lost a step and he will clearly need to get into shape, but once he’s in form he is still an All-Star guard who can create offense almost effortlessly. The Clippers now have their own version of a big three, something they will need if they hope to compete for a championship among the growing number of Western Conference powerhouses. In addition, they added toughness, rebounding, defense and a championship pedigree in PJ Tucker, who was included in the trade. It can be argued that Tucker is a vital accompaniment to Harden because he will make up for Harden’s defensive weakness and won’t require touches as motivation.

Tricks: This trade is not without risk for the Clippers, who take on a volatile, often cancerous defensive liability in Harden. For all of his offensive prowess, which promises to create space and open opportunities for George and Leonard, he comes with plenty of baggage that should give Clippers head coach Ty Lue pause. Could Harden be the missing piece for a Clippers championship? Yes, he absolutely could. Might he also be one of the reasons the team falls short of that goal once again. He also misses his share of games, an issue the Clippers already have in spades with their existing All-Star duo.

Philadelphia 76ers 

Treats: There’s a lot to like about this deal for the 76ers, and the best trades are those that benefit both sides equally. That’s not as easy to do when both sides are championship hopefuls, but in this case the Sixers did quite well. First, of course, trading Harden is addition by subtraction. Sixers GM Daryl Morey created a monster, as he did in Houston previously, and Frankenstein had to go. Losing Tucker is a blow, but the additions of Robert Covington (a known commodity in Philly), KJ Martin, Marcus Morris and Nicolas Batum give Sixers head coach Nick Nurse plenty of versatile veteran options in the front court and on the wing. As a bit of a chocolate layer over the peanut butter, all of the contracts acquired in this deal are expiring, so there is no impact on their long-term cap space heading into next summer.

Tricks: The hardest pill to swallow here may be that once again James Harden got his way. It’s challenging to understand why Morey has spent so much of his career doing Harden’s bidding, even to the detriment of his own team. After going through this in Houston in dramatic fashion, a nice trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Washington Wizards or Charlotte Hornets seemed to be in order. Nonetheless, he traded an All-Star and didn’t get one back, which is generally considered to be a bad move. There also is no sure replacement for Tucker, much less an upgrade, which should have been on Morey’s wish list. Covington and Batum were platooning at the four in LA, with neither putting up notable numbers. Then again, as in LA, neither is likely to see offensive plays run for them with so many potent offensive threats around them.

The Test Looms

Whether or not you’re a fan of the NBA’s kind of ridiculous in-season tournament, it begins later this week and will hardly prove and equal test for these new-look teams. For Harden and the Clippers it will be something of a baptism by fire, as the defending champion Denver Nuggets and the finally (finally!) healthy New Orleans Pelicans in their bracket. That’s not the case for the Sixers, who will be the contenders in a mix of the Eastern Conference’s middle-tier teams. The tournament does offer an immediate test for both of these teams and should give us a good idea of how to rate each of the deals in retrospect.

Bill Ingram is Executive Editor for The Hardwood Huddle, a new website coming soon from the creators of Back Sports Page. Bill has covered the NBA for more than 20 years.

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