Harden Should Come off the Bench


For the third time in three years, James Harden has gotten his way.

This time departing Philadelphia after two disappointing playoff outings for him and his team.

While the Clippers did not give up a great deal of assets for Harden on paper, the intentions behind this move show where the front office thinks the Clippers stand in the West.

They clearly think the team was not good enough to win a championship prior to the Harden trade.

The team is looking completely disorganized, yet again lacking in identity and culture.

To fix this, Harden will need to come off the bench, but will he accept a lesser role?


Harden has done a good job saying the right things. Last year after a game against the Clippers, Harden told ESPN “you have to sacrifice to get to where you’ve never been.”

Next, after being traded to the Clippers he told the Associated Press “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 we all got one goal and I think everybody knows what that is.”

This is exactly what everyone loves to hear about their teams newest player. When things aren’t going as planned, however, is Harden going to stay true to his word?

A starting lineup that has the four California natives Russell Westbrook, Harden, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard still has the possibility to work. Just because they are four big names does not mean that they all have to start together, however. A possible starting five that consists of Westbrook, Terance Mann, PG, Kawhi, and Ivica Zubac can help the Clips form an identity.

First, Harden coming off the bench still means he can close games. When Harden is playing well he can provide relaxed decision making in intense moments, something Russ can struggle with. As well as being a better floor-spacing option.

Second, Russ should start instead of Harden. He makes the Clippers play with extraordinary speed. Russ’ play can be used to establish an identity of forcing turnovers, running the floor, and letting it fly from three.  It is not worth the risk to mess with Westbrook’s rhythm.

One of the biggest reasons Russ’ tenure with the Lakers did not go as planned was due to the inconsistency of his role. Russ started every game in his first season with the Lakers and the next year they had him coming off the bench some games and starting others.

With all of the talk about ‘sacrifice’ and ‘there’s only one basketball’ that comes with these star-laden teams, there is one thing that needs to be abundantly clear.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the two most important players on this team.

They should not have to sacrifice as much. Kawhi’s case is easier because everyone on the court knows that he is ‘that dude’. Kawhi has been in this position since the proverbial torch passing from Tim Duncan‘s reign to his. Paul George, however, is much more complicated.

PG, to his credit, has been an NBA chameleon. He can play and fit well with anyone, from being the No. 1 option on the Pacers, to joining Westbrook after his polarizing 2016-17 MVP victory, and most recently teaming up with Kawhi in LA.

In most cases, this would always be a positive. But with this set of unique circumstances there is a pathway to a destination that is very undesirable.

Paul George has been on a tear this year, playing more aggressive than ever and fearlessly finding his own shots. Even though Harden is on the roster, PG needs to still have opportunities to be “Point Guard P”.

When he is playing aggressive and getting two feet in the paint it creates wide open threes galore.  If adding a player as ball dominant as Harden messes heavily with PG’s rhythm, then that on its own makes this a bad trade.

Just because PG can adapt easier than others, does not mean he should always have to be the one to change his game.


It is becoming more glaring with each passing year that Harden is no longer the superstar he once was. Every player reaches a point in their career where father time catches up to them. The speed at which a player declines can be steep and unpredictable.

The sharp decline of all-time shooting guards Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade show how quickly things can fall apart.

The later stages of these three players careers look eerily similar.

Harden is 34, Iverson played his last NBA season at 34, and D-Wade’s last true All-Star appearance came at 34. Withholding the last season of his career where D-Wade and Dirk Nowitzki were special additions to the All-Star game.

In addition, all three players were changing teams on a year-to-year basis. A.I. played for four teams in the last four seasons of his career. Wade played for three teams in the last three seasons of his career. James Harden is on his fourth team in the past four seasons.

Lastly, all of these players’ scoring declined in unison with their athleticism. They possessed an elite first step to get to whatever spot they wanted too and defenders could not do anything about it.

As their burst declined, however, every shot got tougher. Every defender felt a little bit faster, and every hack in the paint hurts a little bit more the next morning.

While Harden has shown flashes of his former self, he has not averaged over 25 points per game since the 2019-20 season.

While getting old is nothing new, players like LeBron can skew the perspective of how we view aging superstars. Combining that with the fact that Harden is still an immensely skilled basketball player can lead to Harden being viewed as the player he used to be and not the player he currently is.


While this being neither positive or negative, it is a fact that you need to adjust to Harden’s playstyle.

Harden is great with a pick-and-roll big such as Zubac, but Russ playing with an inside big is always slightly awkward. Plumlee’s injury shows more than ever that they need another big.

Ideally that would be a stretch four or five that is not PJ Tucker. Tucker is a fine player who makes a great addition to any team he plays on. However, championship-caliber teams should not have to rely on small-ball lineups anchored by a 38-year-old, undersized big.

Staggering the stars is a must. At first glance, the pairing of Kawhi and Harden as well as the pairing of Russ and PG are apparent. PG and Westbrook still retain copious amounts of chemistry and energy from their time together in OKC.

While both players are in the latter stages of their careers, the pressure they put on opposing teams trying to get up the court is intense. They both possess great hands and Russ’ infectious energy has him and PG flying up and down the court, forcing turnovers and creating highlights.

The other pairing prefers a more methodical approach. Kawhi and Harden both use their dribbles to evaluate their situations and get to their spots.

This has been one of the biggest problems with the current lineup that starts all four of them. When playing at a slower pace with less movement, the roles of players like Russ and T-Mann become diminished and awkward. Forcing dynamic athletes to try and be spot-up shooters is not a recipe for winning.

For the Clippers there is always going to be a mismatch— they just need to take advantage of it. The Clips love to go to five-out and four-out-one-inside lineups. These lineups only work if the mismatch is spotted early and attacked relentlessly. Currently these lineups consist of far too much isolation ball while the other four players remain in place.

Another issue is that Harden loves to play slow and the Clippers are becoming a rather slow and old team. Last season, the Clippers had the 24th slowest pace in the NBA.

Playing at such a slow pace makes it very hard for the Clippers to take advantage of their strengths. Their excellent shooting skills and wealth of ballhandlers are not employed enough in the current state of the team.

Lastly, the greatest contributions from T-Mann, Russ and Bones Hyland is their athleticism and work ethic that they inject into this Clippers team. With Bones reportedly being out of the rotation for the foreseeable future, having Westbrook and Mann in the starting lineup is all the more important.

They provide the Clippers with a very solid defensive backcourt with guards who rebound like big men. As well as playing with hustle so obvious that other players cannot help but join in.

The Clippers look to end their five-game skid Tuesday against the Nuggets in a continuation of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament.

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About Josh Douglas

Josh is a fan of shot creators, big guys that play like guards, and on-court accessories. He is an avid supporter of all things Clippers and 76ers. Josh writes about the L.A. Clippers.

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