NUGGETS

New west superteam? Clippers get former MVP in blockbuster trade

Oct 31, 2023, 1:17 AM | Updated: 3:23 pm

The Denver Nuggets may have a new team to check in on in their rearview mirror as the NBA’s Western Conference continues in the attempt to catch the reigning champions.

As the clock struck midnight to begin Halloween, the Los Angeles Clippers cut a deal for 10-time All-Star, three-time league scoring champion and former MVP James Harden. The disgruntled star guard of the Philadelphia 76ers asked for a trade months ago and now after making a giant mess, he gets his wish, landing on a fourth new team over the past four seasons. The trade pairs Harden with two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, eight-time All-Star Paul Gorege, fellow former MVP Russell Westbrook and NBA Title-winning head coach Ty Lue.

The total package sends Harden, PJ Tucker and Filip Petrusev to Los Angeles for role players Marcus Morris, Nic Batum, Robert Covington and KJ Martin as well as multiple draft picks and a pick swap who are headed to Philly, according to ESPN.

The superteam and trade have many angles relating to the Nuggets.

For starters, the 2-1 Clippers who have finished above .500 in each of the last 12 seasons will get a further injection of star power to a cast of characters that folks long assumed could topple Denver. The healthiest version of the Leonard and Gorege era team of course blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the second round of the bubble playoffs. Each of the two big-name playoffs has been hurt a ton since, and Harden has also had his fair share of injury issues. The Clippers gave up four highly valuable role players in the deal that did a lot of the team’s dirty work and now a Clippers group famous for playing very little in the regular season will have to treat these games with more importance as they establish an identity. However, the team was able to cut the deal without having to move 27-year-old Terance Mann whom they covet, nor anyone in their starting lineup. In fact, the Clippers were even able to keep Bones Hyland because of just how toxic Harden had made yet another situation.

The Clippers preseason +2,200 championship odds have been slashed as low as +1,200, which trails only the star-driven Phoenix Suns (+700) and the Denver Nuggets (+500) in the west, all of whom are just slightly behind the favorites Milwaukee and Boston at +400. The Clippers tie the Warriors with their odds and are just ahead of the Lakers at the time of this writing early Tuesday morning.

In the long-term, the Clippers open a new stadium next year and have made a big deal about keeping the team full of stars for it. They have however again jeopardizes the team’s future, something they’ve done relentlessly over the past five or so years. Harden, 34, is a free agent at season’s end.

Though all of these risks and the lack of talent needed to acquire Harden who at least for now wants to be there, make it a trade worth doing for Los Angeles. And in the context of catching the Nuggets, who have beaten the Clippers six straight times and are 12-2 going back to the turn in the bubble—this may have been a consideration. Obviously, recent matchups have not gone Los Angeles way, though it’s hard to see how this deal will actually help the Clippers beat the Nuggets. Yes, they get another great perimeter scorer and pair the NBA’s best assist man at 10.7 a game last season with former three-time assist king Westbrook, but there are only so many basketballs to go around. Leonard and Gorege will be in the frontcourt with Harden and Westbrook in the backcourt, Ivica Zubac will have the task of Jokic when facing the Mile High City squad. Jokic has torched Zubac over the years but Los Angeles did get former Nugget and decent Jokic defender Mason Plumlee last season. Though they gave away three players who can play center a fourth who has tried and all of whom have had length and success in bothering Nuggets offenses in the past. When the Suns cashed in that length for star power last season in trading for Kevin Durant, it ended in a playoff loss to Denver. Though, it is worth noting and maybe just important for this deal in the context of Denver, Tucker did an incredible job on Nikola Jokic last season when the 76ers hosted the Nuggets.

For Philly this marks yet another big player to run away from Joel Embiid, who has had Harden, Jimmy Butler,  Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Markelle Fultz ditch him. In the Embiid against Jokic comparisons that highly value the Nuggets’ big’s ability to make his team better, this transaction is no doubt something that should be factored in. The deal also likely puts Embiid, who is down to co-staring with Tyrese Maxey, into the next big-name NBA player trade candidate to watch.

For Harden, it’s a homecoming. He grew up in Southern California and he reunites with Westbrook, his former teammate on the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder.

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