The Only Winner of the James Harden Trade Is James Harden

The 76ers dealt Harden to the Clippers for a package of rotation players and picks

James Harden, who was just traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Los Angeles Clippers, looks on during an NBA game.
James Harden is heading to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty

While the gentlemen’s clubs in the greater Los Angeles area can certainly make a strong case that they are the biggest beneficiaries of James Harden being dealt from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a package of rotation players and picks, it is Harden himself who is the biggest winner of the trade that puts him on his fourth team since the beginning of the 2020-21 NBA season.

Harden, who plays worse in cities with top-rated strip clubs and better in cities that don’t have as alluring nightlife options according to one statistical breakdown, is going to his dream destination (along with P.J. Tucker) in exchange for Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, KJ Martin, Marcus Morris Sr., a 2026 first-rounder (from the Clippers via Oklahoma City), a 2028 first-rounder, two second-rounders and a pick swap from the Clippers.

In Los Angeles, 34-year-old Harden will reunite with Russell Westbrook for the second time after previously playing with his old OKC running mate in Houston, before the Rockets flamed out and blew up their team by dealing Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in 2021 to set him up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Harden will once again have a pair of superstar teammates to play off of as the Clippers still have Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the roster.

How Does the Nets’ Big Three Compare to Other Big Threes in NBA History?
The trio hasn’t played a game together yet, but it could be an all-timer

The Clippers have won just a single playoff game over the past two seasons and are hoping that the addition of Harden to their star-studded core of George, Leonard and Westbrook will allow them to compete with other top-heavy contenders in the Western Conference like the Suns, Warriors, Mavericks, Lakers and Nuggets. (Interestingly enough, Durant, Irving and now Harden are all playing in the West after their failed Brooklyn experiment.)

It’s an understandable move for the Clippers as Harden led the league in assists (10.7 per game) last season and still scored at a high level (21 points per game) while helping the Sixers win 54 games and Joel Embiid win MVP. Harden alternated between being a star and a slug during the postseason and Philadelphia was bounced in the conference semifinals for the fifth time in six years, prompting the firing of head coach Doc Rivers.

The Sixers, who really had no choice about trading Harden after he promised to never play for Philadelphia President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey ever again, did not get a great haul for the former MVP, but they may have gotten the best return they could have hoped for given the circumstances. In addition to adding some decent veterans in Covington, Batum and Morris (all of whom have expiring contracts that can be packaged in a trade), removing Harden from the roster also completely frees Tyrese Maxey, who is averaging 30.3 PPG and 6.3 APG through three games, to ball out.

Considering the Sixers basically only had to give up Ben Simmons, who has only played 45 games over the past three seasons, to get Harden, Morey could have done worse and one could certainly argue the deal will wind up being addition by subtraction. On the L.A. side of things, the argument will be that the Clippers won the exchange because they basically traded a bunch of ponies for a horse and also got a gritty former champion in Tucker.

The Clippers and Sixers can both claim to have won the deal and the arguments for both sides have merit, but the reality is the only real winner of the Harden trade is Harden himself. Harden gets his money (he opted into a $35.6 million player option before the 2023-24 season) to slide into a secondary role behind George and Leonard, and to call the city with the fourth-rated strip clubs in the nation (behind Miami, Chicago and Salt Lake City?) home. He probably won’t win a title in L.A., but he also probably won’t care.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.