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    Swanson: Clippers’ purported trade for James Harden is going nowhere fast – if at all
    • October 26, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — Harden to the Clippers.

    Four little words that probably remind Clippers fans of that time they ordered something online – a new replica jersey, say – and waited and waited and waited for it to come … and maybe it did, eventually. Or maybe it didn’t. But there probably came a moment in that waiting game when they realized, you know what? They’d be OK without it, if it didn’t get delivered.

    Just like NBA fans aren’t holding their breath waiting for this year’s Clippers team – Take 5 since Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teamed up together in L.A. – to win that elusive first NBA title, I hope they’re not holding their breath waiting to see Harden in a Clippers jersey.

    Because, wisely, the Clippers aren’t going to give up a single asset more than they’re comfortable with, and apparently not the unprotected first-round draft pick, pick swap, and Terance Mann (along with salary cap filler) that the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly have asked for.

    You can say they’re driving a Harden bargain.

    Even though, by all accounts, the Clippers have been interested in adding the 10-time All-Star and former league MVP to a team starring three other Southern California-born talents. Even though, for the past few months, the Clippers have been in talks about what it would take to grant the regularly disgruntled 34-year-old point guard’s wish to come home to L.A.

    The prospect of opening the Intuit Dome next season with a winner is big. Opening it with the winner would be huge. And Harden could help.

    He averaged 21 points and 10.7 assists per game last season with the 76ers. What’s more: He’s durable, a big deal in Clipperdom, where injuries seem always to come at the most inopportune times. Also, imagine the peeved, motivated version of Harden they’d get. A man on a mission, he’d be playing for that next deal after his $35.6 million contract set to expire after this season.

    Meanwhile, with the 76ers’ season opener Thursday against the Bucks in Milwaukee, Harden is starting a “ramp-up phase” toward playing again. After being away for 10 days, he rejoined the team this week but reportedly didn’t travel for either the opener or Game 2 in Toronto.

    Harden has wanted to be traded since picking up his player option in June, apparently expecting to then be dealt to the Clippers. When it didn’t happen, he called out Daryl Morey as a “liar” in August and said as recently as Oct. 13 that there’s no chance of repairing his relationship with the 76ers’ president of basketball operations: “When you lose trust in someone, it’s like a marriage,” Harden told reporters. “You lose trust in someone, you know what I mean?”

    He’s maybe most comfortable when he’s making things uncomfortable.

    The Clippers, meanwhile, were looking comfy in their 123-111 season-opening romp over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at Arena.

    That they’d be interested in maximizing their window to win with Leonard and George could be leveraged, but they’re not desperate. They’re good.

    They put on a show Wednesday like what fans imagined when Leonard and George first teamed up in 2019. Dunks and defense, unselfishness and joy. They set new season-opening franchise records for assists (36) and 3-pointers made (16 for 34) that – even against an inexperienced Blazers team – seemed like a good sign.

    By the time the Clippers try to run their winning streak against the Lakers to 12 games on Nov. 1, they could be – should be? – 4-0, with games against Utah, San Antonio and Orlando next.

    Also, Leonard and George are starting the season healthy at the same time for the first time in three seasons and for just the first time since they teamed up in L.A. With Wednesday’s win – after which Leonard reported: “I came out the game feeling good” – they’re now 97-46 in games they’ve played together.

    They also have Russell Westbrook, for whom Arena – when it’s dressed up for Clippers games – might as well be a different dimension: All that tension that existed in the building last season when he was an ill-fitting part of the Lakers has dissipated and the love affair that began late last season between Westbrook and Clippers fans is alive and flourishing.

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    On Wednesday, he was a game-high plus-30 in a game the Clippers led, at one point, by 30. His 13 assists were the most by a Clippers player in a season opener since Andre Miller in 2002.

    He’s the ball handler the Clippers wanted, and the energizer they needed.

    “He does a lot,” Leonard said. “He brings the energy, he comes in the game trying to get to the rim. It excites you and … gets you going.”

    Things change quickly in the NBA, though, so maybe the price will be right later if Philadelphia reaches a breaking point. Or maybe the Clippers’ calculus changes when their schedule stiffens and if injuries catch up with them again.

    Or not. Maybe there comes that moment when the Clippers realize, you know what? They wanted Harden, but they’ll be OK without him too.

    ​ Orange County Register