This NBA Trade Will Change Everything

Only time will tell who got the better deal in the Clippers-76ers trade involving James Harden.

Members of the media thrive on instant reactions, and significant trades like the one that occurred early on a Tuesday morning between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers tend to spark immediate responses, evaluations, commendations, and criticisms.

In this context, opinions regarding the winners and losers of the highly anticipated news that James Harden was finally granted his separation from Daryl Morey varied widely. Sam Quinn, one of our own, assessed the Clippers with a C- and the Sixers with an A- for their exchange, which involved sending Harden, PJ Tucker, and Filip Petrusev to the Clippers in return for two future first-round picks, a first-round pick swap, and two second-round picks.

Even Las Vegas weighed in on the matter, favoring the Clippers by adjusting their title odds from 18-1 to 12-1, while simultaneously reducing the Sixers’ odds from 20-1 to 30-1. Other analysts expressed contrasting views, assigning both high and low grades. My initial reaction leaned toward a C+ for the Clippers and a modest C- for the Sixers.

Nonetheless, numerous executives and sources within the league contended that the most accurate evaluation of this trade could only occur in the weeks and months to come.

“This is a situation where the true outcome won’t be known until later,” as stated by one executive. “Usually, everyone forms an instant opinion, but this case is exceptional. Because both teams are striving to win, the only question of significance is: Who, at the end of the season, has positioned themselves more effectively to advance further? That is the ultimate measure of the trade’s success.”

Each team made distinct assessments regarding their respective needs and adopted different strategies, each accompanied by significant risks but also the potential for improvement.

The Clippers are fully committed to this season, focusing on the present with an “all-in” mindset. They view Harden as a valuable asset who can contribute to winning regular-season games, especially when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George require rest or miss games. The risk of Harden being an expensive one-year rental is acknowledged, but the Clippers are willing to take this risk, given that George and Leonard hold player options for the following summer, and Harden is a pending free agent. Their perspective is to seize the current opportunity and assess the situation in the coming summer, believing that the potential upside justifies the risk as they aim to maximize their championship window.

On the other hand, the Sixers see several pathways to achieve their desired outcome. One approach involves winning enough to persuade Joel Embiid to remain with the team. They believe that even with a disgruntled Harden, they can secure the third seed and potentially have a more harmonious team, which might encourage Embiid to stay. A scenario they envision is one where Tyrese Maxey’s early excellence continues, strengthening the team’s performance even without Harden. Additionally, the assets acquired in the trade and the cap space created by Daryl Morey might attract a high-profile free agent the following summer, potentially convincing Embiid to commit to the Sixers.

Nonetheless, both teams face clear risks. For the Clippers, the concern is that Harden might underperform in the playoffs, or that Leonard and George’s injury issues persist, raising questions about the price paid for Harden. On the other hand, the Sixers fear that Embiid may choose to leave one way or another, similar to Harden’s approach.

In summary, the outcome of this trade is intricate and can only be accurately assessed in the future.

Various perspectives from individuals working in the NBA on the James Harden trade:

  • Some speculate that Daryl Morey’s decision to trade Harden without receiving a star player in return may not have been solely due to Harden’s influence but could have involved higher-level discussions. For instance, it’s suggested that perhaps Joel Embiid or Sixers owner Josh Harris played a significant role in pushing for the trade, and those are the voices that truly matter in this context.
  • On the other hand, there’s a viewpoint that Morey’s primary focus was on shaping a positive narrative around the trade. He aimed to acquire as many first-round picks, including swaps, as possible to make the trade appear favorable. The underlying idea is that he recognized the need to move Harden and wanted to package it attractively to the public.
  • The trade places significant pressure on the Clippers. The acquisition of James Harden involved trading for several picks and considering him as a rental player. With the additional factor of taking on PJ Tucker’s contract, questions arise about how far the Clippers must go in their performance to justify the trade. Whether reaching the NBA Finals or even just the conference finals would be sufficient is a matter of debate.
  • Another perspective emphasizes the value of simply moving on from James Harden. Despite the trade, the view is that the Sixers may not be as competitive as teams like Boston and Milwaukee. However, by unloading the disgruntled Harden in exchange for depth and potential assets that can be flipped for assistance, the team can improve. While they may still lag behind Milwaukee and Boston, the trade could lead to a less tumultuous environment and offer opportunities for upgrades.

Early thoughts on daring forecasts:

The commencement of the NBA season sparks bold predictions, one of which comes from our very own Brad Botkin. He envisions the potential for Victor Wembanyama to clinch the Defensive Player of the Year award, anticipates a scoring title for Steph Curry, and foresees a resurgent Atlanta Hawks team.

Here are several predictions from NBA executives, agents, and former players:

  • The Thunder in the Finals. Yes, you read that correctly. A respected talent evaluator believes that the Western Conference might not be as formidable as it appears at first glance. They suggest that if the right circumstances align, the Thunder could potentially make an unexpected journey to the NBA Finals this summer. “They possess considerable talent and have the potential for significant growth. When you look past Denver, who’s facing the challenge of defending their title, the other teams all have their flaws. Oklahoma City may be even more formidable than most people realize.”
  • The Mavs miss the playoffs. This seems to be a recurring theme, which is surprising considering their strong start and Luka Doncic’s continued brilliance. However, many in the NBA are acknowledging the intense competition in the loaded Western Conference and are contemplating the possibility of the Mavericks falling short of the playoffs.
  • Jrue Holiday a more valuable acquisition than Damian Lillard. A couple of Eastern Conference executives have raised the intriguing idea that Jrue Holiday might be the more significant addition from the recent trade. “Lillard is undoubtedly a fantastic player, but Jrue is a proven winner, excels on defense, has a championship to his name, and offers the Celtics precisely what they need. In the long run, this trade could turn out to be a much better fit.”
  • Daryl Morey’s job security is in jeopardy, regardless. Let’s conclude with this point, considering Morey’s recent move involving Harden and the various perspectives on its merits and drawbacks. Before the trade took place, one rival general manager commented, “Look, does Daryl Morey realize that his job is on the line no matter what? He’s either not getting enough in return, or he’s sticking with Harden, and that might not work out. In either scenario, he’s facing significant challenges.”

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