May 24, 2024

So James Harden whined and insulted and pouted and basically quit his way from Philadelphia to the Clippers.

So what’s your point?

He’s a star. He’s a fit. He’s home. He’s happy. This is perfect.

The nearly finalized trade that will bring Harden to the Clippers from the Philadelphia 76ers for four role players and draft picks may offend sensibilities but should also engender applause.

No matter how he arrived here, Harden brings legitimate championship hopes and endless marketing possibilities and, for the Clippers and their long-suffering faithful, this is a good thing.

This works. This makes sense. This is exactly what they need and when they need it.

In this last-chance season for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Harden could be the glue that could keep them here.

In this last-Crypto season for owner Steve Ballmer, Harden could be the bridge that carries the franchise into next year’s opening of the Clippers’ new Inglewood arena.

The awkward timing couldn’t be better. The immediate future couldn’t be brighter. Their title odds should now be substantially lower.

Harden gives Leonard and George somebody to get them the ball, somebody to score when they can’t, somebody to play when they can’t, somebody to siphon off some of their attention, which will noticeably reduce their burden.

James Harden drives to the basket.

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden drives to the basket during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics in May.

(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

What, you thought temperamental Russell Westbrook could really be trusted to spend an entire season doing that stuff?

Meanwhile, Harden gives Ballmer another hometown star to sell, another reason for new fans to buy, a polarizing social media centerpiece that everyone loves to watch even as they are hating on him.

What, you thought the aggressively reticent Leonard and pleasantly bland George could fill that role?

Sure, Harden can be a jerk. But he’s a jerk who last season led the league with 10.7 assists per game. Think George and Leonard would like some of those dimes?

Absolutely, Harden can be a malcontent. But he’s a malcontent who has won an MVP award and four scoring titles while averaging at least 20 points a game for the last 11 seasons. Think the Clipper culture can use that sort of achievement and experience?

Certainly, Harden, 34, has childishly forced his way out of Houston and Brooklyn and now Philadelphia. But he’s in the final year of his contract, so next summer if he or the Clippers aren’t thrilled, he won’t need to force his way out of Los Angeles. He can just leave.

For all the permanent damage Harden may have inflicted on other teams, he’s a temporary fix here, a quick and powerful solution to a short-term problem, the right beard at the right time.

And did you see who the Clippers had to give up to acquire him? A better question is, did you see who the Clippers didn’t have to give up?

They didn’t have to trade budding star guard Terance Mann or solid veteran Norman Powell. When word of trade talks initially leaked last summer, there was some thought that they would have to deal both. But to acquire Harden without either one? That’s as surprising, and rewarding, as Ballmer encountering a traffic-free drive on a visit to his Intuit Dome.

The price the Clippers actually paid was big in numbers but not in impact, as they gave up Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, KJ Martin, multiple draft picks and a pick swap.

In addition to Harden, they acquired tough P.J. Tucker and Filip Petrusev, although Harden alone would have been plenty.

Sure, the reason the Clippers were able to acquire him for less than market value is troublesome. This summer the former Lakewood Artesia High star opted into the final season of his contract at $35.6 million and demanded a trade to the Clippers. When that trade wasn’t made, he went publicly ballistic on Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, infamously calling him a “liar” and adding “I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.”

So much for Philadelphia’s leverage.

The league fined Harden $100,000 for the outburst, but he wasn’t done. Last month, before the start of training camp, Harden appeared on a video while partying in Houston with a woman holding up a sign reading, “Daryl Morey is a liar.”

Harden then blew off media day and the first day of practice before finally showing up for work, sort of. He has not played for the Sixers during their three games this season, although he was on the bench wearing jeans and a hoodie during Sunday’s home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

It was truly an ugly exit. But the Clippers truly shouldn’t care.

He has had more than his share of playoff meltdowns, most recently going 7-for-27 in the final two games of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics. But the Clippers can worry about that later.

For now, they just landed what could be the final piece of an NBA championship puzzle, a troubled player who can nonetheless solve their problems, a whiner and pouter who will nonetheless make their fans roar.

James Harden might be a villain, but now he’s the Clippers’ villain, and they were lucky to land him.

No lie.

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