James Harden's NBA future is growing dimmer with each day that passes without a trade to the Clippers

James Harden is a previous MVP. He is something near to a contemporary All-Star. His future, at the minute, can’t be so quickly condensed into a single sentence. Let’s examine the series of occasions that led us to “Daryl Morey is a liar” to attempt to find out where he’s going.

  • Feb. 2022: Harden requires a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for a plan constructed around likewise annoyed star Ben Simmons. It is the 2nd trade he has actually required in 13 months.
  • May 2022: Philadelphia loses its second-round series to the Miami Heat. Harden ratings 11 points in the series-ending loss, his floor overall in a championship game that did not include a recorded injury given that 10-point ordeal in Game 6 of a 2017 season-ending loss to the San Antonio Spurs. 
  • July 2022: Harden re-signs with the 76ers on a two-year, $68.6 million offer. Harden decreased his $47.3 million gamer choice to end up being a complimentary representative and sign this agreement, and while doing so, enabled the 76ers the versatility to sign P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. Harden declared at the time that he “told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over.” Notably, nevertheless, no NBA group entered into complimentary company with sufficient cap area to match the $33.6 million wage the 76ers offered Harden for the 2022-23 season, and all 5 groups that ran listed below the cap throughout the 2022 offseason were coming off of lotto seasons. Therefore, it is difficult to understand if any idea that Harden really left cash on the table beyond his 1 year choice is really precise, and even if he wanted to, he significantly had no course to a market-value wage on a competitor without Philadelphia’s cooperation.
  • Dec. 2022: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Harden is “seriously considering a return to the Houston Rockets” as a complimentary representative in the 2023 offseason. The 76ers are 19-12 at that minute and appear primed to complete in the Eastern Conference.
  • May 2023: Philadelphia blows a 3-2 cause the Boston Celtics in the 2nd round. Harden shoots 7-of-27 from the flooring in Games 6 and 7.
  • June 2023: Harden, without an appropriate long-lasting agreement deal from the 76ers and with the understanding that Houston prepares to pursue Raptors guard Fred VanVleet rather of him, gets his $35.6 million choice for the 2023-24 season anticipating to be traded quickly later, preferably to the Los Angeles Clippers.
  • August 2023: Harden calls Morey a phony after no trade emerges.

There are 2 methods of taking a look at this series of occasions, and the reality most likely lies someplace in between them. 

Harden’s point of view is most likely that he did the 76ers a favor by bailing them out of the Simmons ordeal, did them another one by leaving cash on the table so they might sign Tucker and House, and now Morey has not just stopped working to provide him the sort of long-lasting agreement he anticipated for his sacrifice, however will not even send him to a brand-new group that may be more available to paying him.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, has actually currently seen Harden require his method off of 2 groups and sink their champion hopes in 2 different collapses. They enjoyed him flirt with the Rockets all season just to discover in July that they weren’t interested, and are now viewing him start out once again with a Clippers group that would gladly take him, however does not appear all that excited to provide anything as much as get him. From their point of view, Harden is neither worth the sort of long-lasting dedication he anticipates nor efficient in netting the sort of trade plan it would require to validate quiting a gamer who, a minimum of in this minute, is still rather excellent.

And that’s what makes all of this so complex. Throughout all of his current shenanigans, Harden has actually gotten what he’s desired mainly due to the fact that he has actually been so excellent in the minute that groups obtaining him wanted to ignore both his present drawbacks and his most likely long-lasting degeneration. A more youthful Harden likely would have protected a trade to the Clippers by now due to the fact that the Clippers would be so desperate to land a gamer of his quality that they would provide the sort of draft capital Morey most likely requirements to negotiate.

But for possibly the very first time given that he was traded to Houston in 2012, Harden is being evaluated not by what he is today however by what he will likely be tomorrow. If Harden can protecting a profitable, long-lasting agreement in complimentary company, he would have done so. There were even some slightly appealing theoretical alternatives. The Lakers, who play in the very same city as the Clippers and are run by Harden’s previous representative, Rob Pelinka, had the capability to produce more than $30 million in cap area. No reporting recommended any interest. The Miami Heat are presently involved in a months-long looking contest with the Portland Trail Blazers over Damian Lillard. They might pivot to Harden at any time and possibly negotiate. So far as we understand, they have not attempted.

Harden wishes to earn money, however there is apparently no group going to pay to get him. That’s a crucial information for both sides. Harden plainly isn’t a part of Philadelphia’s long-lasting strategies. If he was, they would have paid him, however for the time being, Philadelphia appears to have actually rotated to taking full advantage of 2024 cap area. That indicates getting Harden off of their books next summertime. Letting his agreement end naturally does that. 

A trade would just have that impact if it implied taking in no long-lasting incomes. Of course, even if Philadelphia had the ability to trade Harden without reclaiming long-lasting cash, their cap area would not do much excellent if an aggravating season caused Joel Embiid requesting for his own trade prior to they might utilize it. That’s where Harden’s short-term worth actually matters here. Even if Harden is pursued next season, Philadelphia requires him to be an All-Star-quality gamer next season simply to keep Embiid engaged till the genuine lineup overhaul can be found in 2024.

This situation leaves Harden out to dry. With Philadelphia’s cap area apparently inhabited by external complimentary representatives, Harden would not just be not able to re-sign with the group that has his Bird Rights, however that group would likely need to renounce his rights prior to it might probably sign-and-trade him. In other words, Philadelphia’s existing strategy of keeping Harden and after that letting him stroll in 2024 would require him to sign with a group with cap area or take a huge pay cut.

Cap area nowadays is an unusual product, specifically amongst winning groups. Spotrac’s Keith Smith presently jobs 6 groups to have at least $20 million in cap area in the summertime of 2024, omitting Philadelphia: San Antonio, Oralndo, Utah, Charlotte, Detroit and Washington. Some of those groups might utilize guards. None of them are prepared to win right now. They’d all most likely choose to utilize their cap area on more youthful complimentary representatives. Even if any of them had an interest in Harden, it would likely be on a short-term offer. This makes it quite clear why Harden is going to such lengths to require a trade now. If he does not get traded, he most likely isn’t earning money next summertime.

The Clippers make a lot more sense through that prism. Yes, Los Angeles is his house town, and yes, the Clippers might win a champion by matching him up with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. That most likely matters. What matters more is that the Clippers, on paper, most likely likelier to extend Harden for significant cash next offseason than any other group in the NBA for 3 factors:

  • They’d have no other way of changing him if he strolled next summertime. Unlike Philadelphia, the Clippers have no possible course to max cap area unless George and Leonard walk. That’s possible, specifically given that the Clippers have not extended either this offseason, however it’s not likely due to the fact that…
  • They are opening a brand-new arena for the 2024-25 season, and they’ll likely wish to be competitive when they do so. Even if the Harden-Leonard-George trio does not produce a champion, it has the sort of star power groups desire when they open a brand-new structure and require to offer season tickets. 
  • They have the wealthiest owner in the NBA. Steve Ballmer has actually made a couple of cost-cutting relocations in current years, with this offseason’s waiving of Eric Gordon standing apart. But he is among the couple of owners that can pay for to not only pay the Leonard-Harden-George trio, however the high-end taxes that would accompany them.

Getting traded anywhere would be economically advantageous for Harden. If absolutely nothing else, he desires his Bird Rights to come from a group that may really wish to pay him next summertime. But the Clippers inspect more boxes than almost everybody else for the factors we covered, and if he does not get his trade, his monetary future, a minimum of by super star requirements, is reasonably bleak.

His best-case situation would likely be something comparable to what took place to DeMar DeRozan in 2021. He had no simple fits amongst the cap area groups. Rumors swirled that he may need to take a mid-level exception. The Bulls lastly bailed him out with a sign-and-trade. The issue here is that in order for a group to sign-and-trade among their own gamers, they require to either keep his Bird Rights or have the cap area to re-sign him prior to trading him. 

Perhaps Morey might finagle the latter through some order of operations shenanigans, however that would imply building a sell which he reclaims no wage, which, in turn, indicates draft settlement to a 3rd group. Philadelphia has little factor to work together on that front. More likely, the Sixers simply renounce Harden when they discover complimentary representatives they wish to sign outright. Once they have actually done so, a sign-and-trade is off the table.

The next layer down is a mid-level exception. This offseason, the non-taxpayer mid-level exception begins at $12.4 million. That would be a huge imagine the gamer Harden is today. If he decreases with age, it may be closer to reasonable a year from now. Of course, Harden sees himself as a super star. Dropping from max cash to mid-level cash would be a bitter tablet for him to swallow. The option is even worse. He need just take a look at among his previous colleagues to see it.

Russell Westbrook simply went from an optimal wage to, functionally, the minimum when he re-signed with the Clippers. This is a startlingly typical decrease for previous stars. Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Marc Gasol and Andre Drummond have actually all gone from either max or near-max agreements instantly down to the minimum upon either the expiration or buyouts of their previous agreements. This isn’t Harden’s instant future, however his decrease might come at at any time, and groups typically choose to prevent fading stars. Remember when Anthony needed to go on First Take to ask groups for a task? Harden features much of the very same defects.

Serious or not, Harden has actually revealed public interest in playing in China one day. If a long-lasting NBA offer does not emerge next offseason, that might come quicker than he believes. Eventually, it might be his most profitable choice. Though incomes in the Chinese Basketball Association are very little compared to the NBA, no foreign star of Harden’s quality has actually ever made the leap to China. The recommendation chances, for that reason, would be massive. That is specifically real for Harden, particularly, as he invested his prime playing for the Houston Rockets. Prior to Morey’s talk about Hong Kong, the Rockets were China’s preferred NBA group due to the fact that they formerly used Chinese star Yao Ming. Though a brand-new NBA offer is clearly the likelier result, if this thing spirals rapidly enough, it would not run out the world of possibility for Harden to make the dive as quickly as the summertime of 2024.

There’s absolutely nothing naturally incorrect with any of these results, specifically for a gamer that has actually made as much as Harden currently has. He might produce his cleanest course to a champion yet by taking a pay cut, or he might set himself up for post-career riches in China. But if these were Harden’s objectives, he would not so frantically be promoting a trade to the Clippers here and now. His objective seems one last NBA payday, and with every day that passes without a Clippers trade, that objective ends up being less and less sensible.

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