Former Rockets star guard James Harden seems to be in a never-ending saga ever since he forced his way out of Houston in 2021.
The soap opera that has become Harden’s career took another turn this week when he was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Los Angeles Clippers in a messy manner that resembled his exit from Houston. Harden is now with his third team in the last three seasons.
Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank is taking the optimistic approach that this will be the right landing spot for Harden.
“He has an elite skill set, and all he cares about is one thing: He wants to win a championship for the LA Clippers,” Frank said to the Los Angeles media. “He wants to be part of something bigger than himself. He’s had all the individual awards. He’s about doing something really special.”
Harden, who was traded along with former Rockets teammate P.J. Tucker, is again reunited with Russell Westbrook, who he played with previously in Oklahoma City and with the Rockets. The Clippers have now put together a formidable foursome of Los Angeles native players that includes Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Westbrook and Harden.
The 76ers received two future first-round picks and two second-round picks, a 2029 pick swap. Some players were also exchanged in the trade.
While Harden has been in Los Angeles with his new teammates since Tuesday, the trade wasn’t officially announced until Wednesday. Harden didn’t play in the two games with the Clippers this week but is expected to make his debut Monday when the Clippers take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Landing in Los Angeles brings an ending to a turbulent season in Philadelphia where Harden never seemed to quite fit in. This summer he got into a huge public fallout with former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who pulled off the trade with the Brooklyn Nets to bring him to the 76ers.
Harden called Morey a “liar” during an interview while he was in China this summer. He also made similar remarks to a local Houston television station about not being happy in Philadelphia despite exercising his $35.6 million player option this past summer.
Apparently, the 34-year-old Harden was upset that the 76ers were unwilling to commit to him long-term.
“Taking $26 million less to sign and make the team better,” Harden said to the media Thursday. “Changing my role, which media [felt] is ball dominant, which my ball dominance is really effective. But changing my role, trying to change the narrative, trying to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win at the highest level. That’s not talked about. It’s the other BS.
“So me leaving Brooklyn and thinking I’m going to retire as a Sixer, and the front office had other plans. They didn’t want me. … There’s a lot of narratives and people think they have an opinion. … But none of that is true.”
There had been rumors the 10-time All-Star would be traded since the end of last season and there was even speculation this past summer that he might end up back in Houston. The fact that Morey and the 76ers could not find a suitable trade this offseason only seemed to make matters worse as Harden vowed he would not play for the team again.
He mysteriously missed several days of practice and then last week was turned away by security from the team plane as he attempted to board for a road trip.
But it isn’t the first time Harden has left a franchise in a cloud of controversy. He and Westbrook forced trades out of Houston after the Rockets made a coaching change. Harden made it known that he wanted out.
It took a few weeks into the season, but the Rockets eventually shipped him to the Nets, where he teamed with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in an experiment that never quite happened and then ended quickly with all three stars eventually leaving the team. Harden was sent to Philadelphia.