Lawrence Frank, Clippers president of basketball operations, said LA has seen a pattern of Harden sacrificing his game to adapt to talent around him from when he was in Brooklyn during an injury-shortened stint with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and most recently with Joel Embiid in Philadelphia.
“James Harden should have been an All-Star last year,” Frank said of the Clippers’ new star guard. “But he’s a 10-time All-Star. He has an elite skill set and all he cares about is one thing: He wants to win a championship for the LA Clippers.
“He wants to be part of something bigger than himself. He’s had all the individual awards. He’s about doing something really special.”
Furious with Philadelphia president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, Harden requested a trade to the Clippers and finally got his wish this week when the two teams struck a deal that became official on Wednesday morning.
Harden, 34, called 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey “a liar” multiple times during a promotional appearance in China in August.
But he looked very happy upon his arrival to the Clippers on Tuesday night when he was joking with former Rockets teammate Russell Westbrook and even singing “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” by the Gap Band in the locker room before the Clippers beat Orlando on Tuesday night.
Harden did not suit up on Wednesday but was on the bench with his new team during the Clippers’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers. P.J. Tucker, who was traded from Philadelphia with Harden, played in his first game with his new team against the Lakers.
With four days off before making his potential Clippers’ debut at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks on Monday, Harden began going over the Clippers’ system with coaches on Wednesday. Head coach Ty Lue will treat this rare break in the regular season as sort of a mini camp to integrate Harden and Tucker.
But Lue and Frank believe their four stars – Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook – are already on the same page as far as doing what it takes to win the franchise’s first NBA title.
“They’re all at the right stages of their career where there’s one common goal,” Frank said. “Because these guys, they have all the individual accomplishments. They’ve made plenty of money. This is about one goal.”
The Clippers are also hoping that because all four of their stars grew up in this area and wanted to play for the Clippers, they’ll find a way make this work.
“Just sacrifice is going to be the biggest thing,” Lue said of what the Clippers need to do. “And the guys we have, four guys from LA and four guys that have done a lot in their career. We’ve talked about just winning the championship. That’s all we’re focused on and they’re going to take a lot of sacrifice, whether it’s shots, whether it’s minutes, and they’re willing to do that.
“So we’ve talked about all the right things and now it’s my job, just to make sure I put the pieces in the right spot to make sure we’re successful.”
Frank bristled at a question about how important it was to acquire Harden due to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George needing rest. Leonard played 52 games and George played in 56 games last regular season due to injuries. George was injured and did not play during the Clippers’ first-round loss to Phoenix while Leonard played in the first two games of the series before tearing his meniscus.
“Well, for one, the Kawhi and PG rest thing is kind of bulls—,” Frank shot back. “There’s a difference between injuries and rest. Kawhi and Paul last year were injured. These guys work extremely hard, for their reputations to be impacted, that people say rest or don’t want to play. Like these guys are the highest level competitors, their first ballot Hall of Famers.
“With James, it was an opportunity to maximize Kawhi and Paul and to give us the highest chance to win. It’s our responsibility not just to Kawhi and Paul, to the coaching staff, to the people in the organization, but to our fans to look at every single way where we can raise our ceiling. James is a ceiling raiser.”