James Harden trade: Clippers give star guard everything he could ever ask for … and one year to make it work

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In James Harden’s last full season with the Houston Rockets, they tried something radical, swapping their rim-protecting center (Clint Capela) for a 3-and-D forward (Robert Covington) and betting that the benefits — spacing for Russell Westbrook and Harden, speed, switchability — would outweigh the big, glaring drawback: No one in the rotation was taller than 6-foot-8.

In retrospect, the experiment was more interesting than it was revolutionary. The post-trade Rockets were formidable in the regular season — they outscored opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions with both Covington and P.J. Tucker on the court, per Cleaning The Glass — but, in the second round of the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers pushed them around, ignored Westbrook on the perimeter and disposed of them in five games. Teams have continued to use unconventional lineups since then, but going centerless is generally a change of pace, not a starting point, and the league has trended bigger, not smaller.

What if that Houston team, which went out in the bubble starting Harden and Westbrook next to Eric Gordon, Covington and Tucker, could have swapped two of its supporting characters for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? And what if, instead of punting on traditional bigs, it was able to add all of this skill while maintaining its size?

This is the promise of the Los Angeles Clippers. By acquiring Harden and Tucker from the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, they can throw out a Harden-Westbrook-George-Leonard-Tucker lineup, switch just about everything, and, in theory at least, pile up points playing 5-out. Harden is now 34, Westbrook almost 35 and Tucker 38, but, with two star wings flanking them, the ex-Rockets won’t have to do as much as they did four seasons ago. And with Ivica Zubac sure to remain the Clippers’ starting center, plus Mason Plumlee backing him up, coach Tyronn Lue can use small ball the way recent champions have: as a counterpunch.

If Lue wants to balance the rotation, he might not even start Westbrook. I like the idea of Harden, George, Leonard and Zubac…

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Source link : https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/james-harden-trade-clippers-give-star-guard-everything-he-could-ever-ask-for-and-one-year-to-make-it-work/

Author : James Herbert

Publish date : 2023-10-31 23:03:00

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