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James Harden begins Clippers tenure with parting shots at 76ers

James Harden’s tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers opened with some parting shots for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Fresh off a four-month impasse with the 76ers that resulted in a blockbuster trade Tuesday, Harden wasted no time in settling back in his hometown. After meeting his new teammates before the Clippers’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, Harden expressed his excitement about playing with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook during an introductory press conference on Thursday .

“I’m elite as an individual and I can fit in with anybody and make a championship work,” Harden said. “We are all on the same wavelength: individual statistics are beyond us and we all have a goal. … It’s already a very good team. The coaching team is also very, very good. I think the comfort level of being back home with my family and having really, really good players on this team – with all that put together, it made sense.

The 10-time All-Star said he plans to practice Friday and hopes to make his debut when the Clippers visit the New York Knicks on Monday. Before taking the court for his fourth team in four seasons, Harden shed some light on his messy exit from the 76ers, which saw him request an exchange in June, strongly criticize 76ers president Daryl Morey in August, arrive late for training camp and missing the team’s first three games before the trade.

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In total, Harden has only played 79 games for Philadelphia after arriving in a February 2022 trade from the Brooklyn Nets.

“Leaving a lot of money on the table for Brooklyn and going to Philly and, again last summer, taking $26 million less to sign and improve the team and the organization,” Harden said. “My ball domination is really effective. Changing my role, trying to change the narrative and trying to sacrifice myself and do whatever it takes to win at the highest level. … Taking less money (and) sacrificing my role, we don’t talk about it. It just didn’t work. Leaving Brooklyn and thinking I’m going to retire a Sixer, the front office had other plans. They didn’t want me.

Harden, who won three straight titles from 2018 to 2020 with the Houston Rockets, averaged 21 points, 6.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists per game for the 76ers last season. His scoring average was the lowest since 2011-12, his third season in the NBA when he was a sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile, 76ers center Joel Embiid earned NBA MVP honors and won the scoring title with 33.1 points per game.

Philadelphia lost in the second round of the playoffs for the third straight season, leading to the firing of coach Doc Rivers. Harden said he was hampered by his lack of offensive freedom in Philadelphia and that he “never really had that opportunity” to “play my best” as a scorer and facilitator.

“If you want to be honest, (it was like) being on a leash,” Harden said. “It all plays into where I am today. …I’m not a system player. I am a system.

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Harden, the 2018 MVP, joins a roster of Clippers stars: Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP, George is an eight-time All-Star and Westbrook is the 2017 MVP. Los Angeles needed a more experienced zone distributor guard in recent years, and Harden said his time alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn was good preparation for his new role.

“I was in a similar situation in Brooklyn where you had two guys who could score the basketball and create mismatches,” Harden said. “I’m doing well in basketball, outside of basketball, in pick and roll, catching and shooting. We have a lot of really unselfish players. I can score in basketball and I’m also a very good passer. I can facilitate.

As they attempt to put together their first deep playoff run since 2021, the Clippers have concluded they are willing to take a chance on Harden, even though he has forced his way out of three teams over the last three years and will then be an unrestricted free agent. summer.

The 34-year-old guard argued that injuries complicated his tenure in Brooklyn and that “the business side” was “out of my control” in Philadelphia. About his new team, he expressed hope that he could put the drama behind him.

“If you’re just talking about basketball, then we definitely have an opportunity (to win),” Harden said. “Hopefully none of those things (that you can’t control) happen and we can just focus on playing basketball and giving ourselves the best chance.”

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