Winners and losers from the James Harden trade

Published November 1, 2023, 12:00 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

Philly finally moved James Harden to LA. Who benefited from the trade?

It’s no secret that James Harden wanted out of Philly. 

After he opted into the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers as a way to make a deal work, he publicly denounced the Sixers, specifically team president Daryl Morey. Harden missed portions of training camp and hasn’t played in any of the team’s games so far.

He finally got his wish when the LA Clippers – a long-rumored suitor of Harden – traded for the disgruntled superstar. The Clippers shipped out Nic Batum, Marcus Morris, KJ Martin, Robert Covington, a 2028 unprotected first, a pick swap, and two second rounders for Harden, PJ Tucker, and Filip Petrusev. The Oklahoma City Thunder joined in on the trade, sending a protected 2026 first round pick to the Sixers while receiving a 2027 first-rounder from the Clippers.

Here are the winners and losers from this massive deal.

Winner: James Harden

Unlike Lillard, Harden got his wish and was traded to the team he actually wanted to play for. As a native of LA, he will finally get to play for his hometown team. Beyond the homecoming, Harden is coming into another ideal situation for a player like him whose credentials precede his current skill level.

Harden is far from the MVP-level player he once was. He won’t be able to single-handedly carry a team to the playoffs anymore. With the Clippers, he won’t have to. He’s joining two established stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and will be playing alongside another former MVP in Russell Westbrook. 

Unlike his time in Philadelphia where he was an essential ingredient to the championship hopes, in LA, he’s an additive, a player that boosts the Clippers’ shot at a chip. That means Harden won’t have to carry such a heavy load, allowing him to save his best performances during games that matter the most. 

Winner: LA Clippers

The Clippers nabbed themselves another All-Star. What’s new?

What makes them big winners of this trade is the fact that they were able to get James Harden and Tucker – a valuable rotation piece – while managing to keep their young players and picks.

Tucker has proven that he can handle the workload of being a big man in small ball units. That makes the Clippers an even more versatile team, allowing them to play small ball with their four All-Stars on the floor along with Tucker. Imagine the 2019-20 small ball Houston Rockets with Tucker, Harden, and Westbrook. But this time, swap out Covington and Danuel House for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Keeping Terance Mann and Bones Hyland also ensures that LA has enough talent and young legs to come off the bench and pinch hit when one of their All-Stars needs a break (or gets injured). The Clippers are thin at the wings, but overall, their team is better with the haul they got from the Sixers.

Loser: Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers were backed into a corner and they lost all their leverage the moment Harden publicly declared that he wouldn’t play for their team anymore. So it’s understandable that there were no other good offers on the table except for the Clippers who they’ve been working with in the first place.

But to lose a player like Harden for practically pennies makes this whole situation even worse. Philly struck out on either Mann or Hyland just makes this deal that bad. But comparing the haul the Portland Trail Blazers got for Damian Lillard and the Utah Jazz got for Rudy Gobert makes it look even worse. Philly got fleeced.

On the bright side, the entire organization can now focus on the product on the court with the Harden-sized thorn removed from their side.

Loser: Joel Embiid

When Harden was acquired by the Sixers, it seemed like Joel Embiid was finally getting the backcourt partner of his dreams. Harden was supposed to be the dynamic playmaker the dominant big man needed to unlock his full potential.

In some ways, that was true. Playing alongside Harden last season allowed Embiid to play at an MVP level. The two have had a lot of regular season success. But they’ve never been able to capitalize on the championship window that was opened for them back in 2022.

Now, that window is shut and Embiid is back where he started. He once again has to carry his team to the playoffs where they’ll eventually get kicked out in the first round.

Winner: Tyrese Maxey

Maxey was just named Eastern Conference Player of the NBA’s opening week after averaging a 30-6-6 line on 50 percent shooting with only three total turnovers. It’s difficult to say what the deciding factor was in trading Harden, but Maxey’s breakout performance to start the season probably shoved the team into pulling the trigger.

Last season, Maxey averaged 24.8 points and 5.4 assists in the 13 games he played without Harden. With Harden gone, the third-year guard is now the undisputed floor general of the team. If Maxey can perform like this throughout the whole season, then it doesn’t matter what the Sixers got in return because they basically traded away Harden to turn Maxey into an All-Star.

Loser: "Scary Hours"

Remember when Harden tweeted this:

Well, that “scary” trio ended up playing only 16 games in the two years they played together.

After the Harden to LA trade broke, several media outlets used the term “scary hours” in their graphics featuring the new Clippers team including Harden.

Maybe it’s time to retire that phrase?

Winner: Adrian Wojnarowski

He dropped the Harden trade announcement at around 2:00 AM Eastern Time. 

That wasn’t a bomb. That was a precise missile strike meant to destroy everyone’s sleep for the night.