At Clippers media day, James Harden was little more than an afterthought. “Our main focus going into camp is ‘this is who we have,'” was how coach Tyron Lue put it.
However, behind the scenes the Clippers are making a push to pull off a trade before the season starts — and that’s why Harden is playing nice at 76ers training camp (well, that and to save money on fines), reports Sam Amick at The Athletic.
But beyond the money matters, league sources say Harden also is taking part because he remains hopeful that a trade to the Clippers is still in the works and believes, for now, that it would be wise to not be a distraction. And the Clippers, league sources say, are going to great lengths to make it happen. League sources say the Clippers have been talking to several teams about ways to move pick swaps for additional draft capital with the intention of bolstering their offer and getting a deal done.
Amick reports the Clippers offered one first-round pick, one pick swap and veteran role players for matching salary in their initial offer to Harden, which is in line with other reports but also well short of what Sixers president Daryl Morey is seeking. He knows he has a short window with Joel Embiid and can’t have a gap year, which is why the 76ers want either an All-Star level player that keeps Philly a contender, or enough picks and other parts that they can be spun into a second trade that does net an All-Star.
Los Angeles is nowhere near that level of offer, and league sources speaking to NBC Sports have said the Clippers are not eager to give up much to get a trade done because their future is murky. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can both be free agents next summer (the Clippers and George are at least talking about an extension), and Harden would have to be paid as a free agent next summer, too. If the Clippers give up anything of real value for Harden, they are essentially forced to re-sign/extend that trio and ride with them for a couple more years, heading into their new arena, the Intuit Dome. Is that the path they want to take?
For now, the sides are apparently at least talking about a Harden trade, so he is playing along (and reportedly in good shape). How all this will look 72 hours from now is anyone’s guess.