After weeks of “will they, won’t they?” speculation, future NBA Hall-of-Famer James Harden is officially a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers held an introductory press conference on Thursday, welcoming “The Beard” to Los Angeles.
Harden joins the Clippers via a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, which was consummated earlier this week.
As part of the deal, the Clippers acquired both Harden and forward P.J. Tucker in exchange for forwards Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris and KJ. Martin and an array of NBA Draft compensation.
The Clippers also acquired Serbian center Filip Petrušev, whom they have since shipped to the Sacramento Kings, giving the 23-year-old a chance to compete for a spot in the team’s rotation.
The acquisition comes just in time for the team’s upcoming contest against the New York Knicks on Monday, which will soon be followed by the team’s opening round matchup in the league’s new in-season tournament on Nov. 10.
Harden’s Clippers arrival reunites the former MVP with longtime friend and two-time former teammate Russell Westbrook. It also gives the Clippers four multi-time All-NBA selections, each of whom were born and raised in Los Angeles County.
Harden attended Artesia High School and said he spent his teenaged years attempting to make it into the NBA in order to “change the directory” of his family. Now in his 15th year, he says playing in Los Angeles feels like a homecoming.
Now 34 years old, his MVP season now a half-decade in the past, Harden says he’s still an elite player who can “can fit in with anybody and make a championship run work.”
“I think all of us are on the same page in the sense of the individual stats and all those things are past us and, you know, we all got one goal, and I think everybody knows that is,” he said. “For me, it’s just going out here and finding the best way to contribute to this team.”
Harden joins the team after an unexpected and controversial ending to his time as a member of the Sixers, which also followed a dramatic exit as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. He said both of those unsatisfactory endings were “out of his control,” with one, seemingly his Nets tenure, the product of injuries, while the other, the Sixers, business-related.
In the summer, Harden opted into the final year of his contract and demanded a trade away from Philadelphia. At one point, still upset with a lack of movement on a trade, Harden criticized his longtime supporter and advocate Daryl Morey, general manager of the Sixers, calling him a “liar.”
He said he sacrificed a lot to make the Sixers organization better, taking less money on the open market than he could have gotten so the team could improve the roster, while also changing his playstyle to benefit his teammates, including reigning MVP Joel Embiid.
“Me leaving Brooklyn, thinking I’m going to retire as a Sixer, I mean, the front office had other plans, they didn’t want me,” Harden said. “It’s that simple.”
In the weeks since his trade request and falling out with Morey, the NBA world watched with anticipation as to what might happen with Harden and whether he would get his wish to be dealt to the Clippers.
He says, in addition to being back home, he’s excited about the prospect of being surrounded by winning players and maximizing his chances of competing for an NBA title.
“Obviously, they’re already a really good team,” Harden said. “I think the coaching staff is really, really good as well … I think the comfort level of being back home around family and then having some really, really, really good players on his team and then basically all four dudes from California is a unique story. So with all that, coming together just makes sense.”
The 10-time NBA All-Star says he’s been in contact with Clippers head coach Ty Lue and says he’s ready to contribute immediately for a coach who believes in him.
“I think the game and I’m a creator on the court,” he said. “I’m not a system player. I am a system.”
Harden is currently ramping up to begin play with his new teammates. The Clippers have the weekend to incorporate their new star if they plan on debuting him Monday at Madison Square Garden.