Much of the talk after the Clippers’ trade for James Harden has been on how Philadelphia got better and how Los Angeles made a mistake. The Clippers haven’t found initial success, though coach Tyronn Lue has a theory on why Harden’s new team is having initial struggles.
“I think he’s doing too much to try to fit in,” Lue said over the weekend via ESPN. “So that’s on me. Just yesterday we had a talk amongst the team and just he has to be James Harden. He led the league in assists the last two or three years, and making plays and what he does in the pick-and-roll, he’s great. So we have to allow him to be himself.”
NBA History Filled With Slow Starts
Basketball history is filled with stars arriving on new teams and having some initial struggles.
The 2010-11 Miami Heat’s collaboration of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh infamously went 9-8 before showing their real potential. James’ return to Cleveland saw the Cavaliers lose three of their first four and arrive home on Thanksgiving week with a record of 5-7. Even Harden’s Philly tenure saw a three-game losing streak during the first month of existence which included a loss to a Pistons team that started the uninspiring threesome of Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III, and Saddiq Bey in late March.
Clippers’ Title Chances
Oddsmakers aren’t fooled by the early struggles of the Harden-led Clippers. Draft Kings currently has the team at +1900 to win the title (good for eighth among all teams). It’s a long regular season and health is surely a major concern for the veteran-led Clippers squad but the championship potential remains.
There’s evidence of the Harden-Russell Westbrook backcourt working. The 2019-20 Rockets put together eye-popping stretches with both on the floor, flanked by PJ Tucker at the center and two lengthy wings who can shoot surrounding them. Houston also staggered minutes of Harden and Westbrook, allowing them each to run the system on their own, leading to an efficient pick-and-roll and three-point shooting product that lacked flash but produced results. That team entered the All-Star break of the pandemic-shortened season with a record of 34-20 despite some having some early season-gelling issues themselves and you could argue that if Danuel House doesn’t get himself booted from the bubble, the team was set up to foil the Anthony Davis–LeBron James‘ Lakers and had real shot of taking home the 2020 title.
Four years later, it’s surely not the same league but with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George replacing replacement-level players in that Houston system, the Clippers have a real shot at the 2024 NBA title. It’ll take time to all come together but as far as real contenders go, don’t dismiss the Clippers’ chances come spring despite what fall headlines might read.