James Harden's a Clipper. So where does he go next?
Three trade demand destinations for the NBA's most mercurial star.
Congratulations to the LA Clippers. They just received the privilege of facilitating James Harden’s next trade demand!
To recap, the 2018 MVP has now forced his way out of three cities since 2021:
Houston, traded Jan 13, 2021
Brooklyn, traded Feb 12, 2022
Philadelphia, traded October 31, 2023
He’s a Clipper – for now. Harden is apparently “ecstatic” to be traded to LA and tried to take the first flight out, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
Yeah, but this wasn’t that long ago:
Don’t forget, upon arrival with the Sixers, Harden revealed at his press conference that Philly was his trade demand destination from the get-go: “Originally, Philly was my first choice (in Houston), it just didn’t happen. I just knew for a very long time, it was a perfect fit … I’m just happy and blessed that I’m here.”
A perfect fit! A year and a half later, he’s gone. Harden blasted Morey like no player has publicly lambasted a boss before, calling him a liar on a promotional tour and refusing to play for him. Harden got his wish.
Harden claims to be happy now, but the only constant in Harden’s world is change. He's on an expiring contract this summer along with George (player option) and Leonard (player option). There’s a non-zero chance that the Clippers hit the reset button and turn Harden’s world upside down. Or maybe a year from now, after resigning with the Clippers, he gets antsy about his surroundings. Maybe that happens a week from now when load-management season starts to kick in. When it comes to Harden, the distance between ecstatic and exasperated is not a long one.
Nonetheless, Harden, even in 2023 as a 34-year-old, is still a helpful player on the floor. Harden’s offensive value as a playmaker remains immense, clocking in at the 97th percentile in offensive Estimated Plus-Minus, per DunksAndThrees.com. With the Clippers holding firm on Terance Mann in trade talks with Philadelphia, it almost greases the wheels on a possible Harden re-trade; suitors won’t have to clear such a high bar from an asset standpoint to bring the Clippers to the table.
And if history serves as a guide, Harden is likely to issue a trade demand in 2024, just as he did in the previous three calendar years. And so, my Finders, I ask: Where will he demand to go next?
Let’s do some detective work.
At the top, I wrote that Harden was fleeing a city, but that characterization is not quite right. At each juncture, Harden wasn’t fleeing a city, but rather a workplace. After bolting a situation that turned sour, Harden has often chased the warm bosom of familiarity. It might be helpful to look at his previous trades through a prism of personal relationships:
He left the Rockets to reunite with KD.
He left KD to reunite with Daryl Morey.
He left Morey to reunite with Russell Westbrook
We convinced ourselves that Harden liked the prospect of playing with a new star (Kyrie in Brooklyn; Joel Embiid in Philadelphia; Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in LA), but the common thread, at least outwardly, is the reunion – either with a person or a city. Westbrook is a draw but for the Los Angeles native, so is returning home.
With this in mind, I think there are three major candidates for his next trade destination.