Grading the Sixers’ blockbuster James Harden trade to the Clippers

Harden Sixers
FILE -Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) calls to teammates during the first half of Game 5 against the Boston Celtics in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Boston. James Harden might have side-eyed questions, much like he did in a playful reaction to a question in his Houston days, about his future with the Philadelphia 76ers. Will Harden return to the 76ers for a third season? (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

After months of his future hanging in the balance, James Harden has officially been granted his wish by the Sixers- he will be suiting up for the Los Angeles Clippers. Following one of the most hostile trade requests and front-office feuds in recent memory, both the Sixers and James Harden seem to be getting what they desire.

The Trade

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Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

There are still several moving parts being finalized on the backend of the deal, but the main pieces of the trade are officially set in stone. While some draft pick protections and trade exceptions may alter slightly the bones of the trade look as such:

Clippers Get: James Harden, P.J. Tucker

Sixers Get: Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, KJ Martin, 2026 FRP, 2028 FRP, 2 Second-Round Picks, Pick Swap

Examining the Sixers’ Return

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 07: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Robert Covington (33) looks on during warmups before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 07, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

One of the biggest points of context in this trade is that each player coming to Philadelphia in the trade is on an expiring deal meaning they will be off the books following this summer. It has been discussed in-depth that the Sixers desire to keep as much financial freedom as possible as they want to attack the free agent class as one of the few contenders with max contract availability. This deal allows them to keep that plan on the table while still improving the team as currently constructed.

Regardless, this is still a deal that increases the chances to win this season. Daryl Morey has provided the duo of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey with the most 3&D depth throughout Embiid’s entire tenure in Philadelphia. It also added to the Sixers’ pile of trade assets by adding draft picks and allows Daryl Morey to get some more time to evaluate what the roster is missing and a chance to make another deal before the deadline. While this seems unlikely to be the only deal Daryl Morey makes this season, here is a look at what each new addition can bring to the team.

Robert Covington

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FILE – Los Angeles Clippers forward Robert Covington (23) plays during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Seattle. James Harden got his trade to the Clippers. The Sixers sent Harden, P.J. Tucker and Filip Petrušev to Los Angeles for Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Nic Batum, K.J. Martin, a 2028 unprotected first-round pick, two second-round picks, a 2029 draft-pick swap and additional first-rounder from a third team, a person familiar with the trade told The Associated Press Tuesday, Oct. 31.(AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson, File)

The most familiar face for Sixers fans, Robert Covington spent five seasons in Philadelphia before being a part of the trade that brought Jimmy Butler to the team. One of the biggest success stories of The Process, Covington is a player Joel Embiid views in a very positive light with the two having a close relationship during his first stint in Philly.

The 2017-18 All-Defensive Team member also played under Daryl Morey in the Rockets system briefly during the 2019-20 season. He now returns as a 32-year-old with a clearer picture of who he is as a player and hungry for a fresh start after being buried in the rotation with the Clippers.

Throughout his career, Covington has averaged 11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 28.8 minutes per game. He is also a career 36.2% three-point shooter while attempting 5.9 per game. While the 16.2 minutes per game he played last year is the lowest since his rookie season, Covington did connect on 39.7% of his three-point attempts in the 2022-23 season with the Clippers.

How much he has left in the tank is to be determined, but one would think Covington at least will get the opportunity to be the Sixers’ primary defensive option against opposing teams top wing scoring options. His 6-foot-7 frame and 7-foot-1 wingspan give him a better chance against bigger wings compared to current defensive options such as De’Anthony Melton.

Marcus Morris Sr.

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FILE – Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) plays Game 5 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Phoenix. James Harden got his trade to the Clippers. The Sixers sent Harden, P.J. Tucker and Filip Petrušev to Los Angeles for Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Nic Batum, K.J. Martin, a 2028 unprotected first-round pick, two second-round picks, a 2029 draft-pick swap and additional first-rounder from a third team, a person familiar with the trade told The Associated Press Tuesday, Oct. 31.(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

A hometown hero, Marcus Morris Sr was born and raised in Philadelphia and seemingly has always had the desire to play for the city. Marcus remains very involved in the city, including participating in local events like the Danny Rumph classic, and has never been shy to represent Philadelphia on a national level. He has had a more successful career compared to his twin brother, Markieff Morris, although both are in the back end of their careers at 34 years old. Marcus Morris has yet to suit up this season but started 65 games for the Clippers last year averaging 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while connecting on 36.4% of his three-point attempts.

While he does not move as well as he once did, Morris is still a solid scorer who can catch-and-shoot or create his own shot. He has a strong 6-foot-8 frame and shot 39.4% from beyond the three-point arc across his four seasons with the Clippers. Morris has some concerning similarities with Tobias Harris, but will be an impactful piece nonetheless.

Nicolas Batum

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FILE – Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum plays the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Seattle. James Harden got his trade to the Clippers. The Sixers sent Harden, P.J. Tucker and Filip Petrušev to Los Angeles for Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Nic Batum, K.J. Martin, a 2028 unprotected first-round pick, two second-round picks, a 2029 draft-pick swap and additional first-rounder from a third team, a person familiar with the trade told The Associated Press Tuesday, Oct. 31.(AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson, File)

Having already announced he will retire at the conclusion of this season, being traded to the Sixers may be a bit of a bitter send-off for Nicolas Batum. However, the 34-year-old is still capable of helping the Sixers at this stage of his career. Batum has one of the quickest releases of any player in the NBA and is comfortable as a catch-and-shooter. He shot 39.1% or better from beyond the three-point arc in each of the past three seasons with the Clippers.

The Frenchman is also a high-IQ basketball player capable of making reads as a passer and competing on the defensive end. Over his 15-year career, Batum has averaged 10.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists across his 29.9 minutes per game. While his best days are undoubtedly behind him, Batum is a playable rotation piece who can space the floor and knock down shots.

KJ Martin

The lone youthful piece in the trade return, KJ Martin is 22 years old and in his 4th season at the NBA. Son of former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin, he spent the past three seasons with the Houston Rockets before being traded to the Clippers before the start of this season in exchange for a pair of second-round picks. Martin packs an athletic pop that will stand out immediately on this Sixers roster. Martin registered 173 dunks last season which was the 7th most across the entire NBA and the most among players under 6-foot-6.

While his game is still pretty raw overall, Martin has an athleticism you can’t teach and a desire to dunk on opponents that the Sixers roster has not seen enough of. He has been a 33.8% three-point shooter thus far in his career, but there is nothing mechanically wrong and it has been a fairly small sample size. Martin also seems to have some good instincts as a cutter which is especially intriguing in Nick Nurse’s system. While expectations should not be huge in the short term, he is an intriguing young talent who should be given a real chance to prove himself. Martin will also be a free agent after the season.

Trade Grade: B-

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Daryl Morey speaks during a news conference at the team’s NBA basketball practice facility, Friday, May 13, 2022, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

No, this is not the blockbuster deal that should have Sixers fans making parade plans. But this deal accomplishes a number of things and an “incomplete” may be a more fair grade.

For starters, the overarching James Harden distraction is over and the team can fully focus on the season at hand. While Nick Nurse deserves a ton of credit for keeping the team on track amid the trade rumors, there is no way around it being frustrating for each player to have to answer questions about the disgruntled star on a daily basis. Rather than having to have a “Plan A” and “Plan B” for if Harden is there or not, the team can be fully on the same page and continue to embrace Nurse’s new team-oriented style of basketball.

While you can nitpick critiques about each of the new additions, the bottom line is this roster has more depth at the wing position than at any other point in the Joel Embiid era. Sure, these guys are mostly past their prime, but they also are on expiring deals and playing for a final contract. The collective group of Robert Covington, Nic Batum, Marcus Morris Sr, Tobias Harris, Kelly Oubre Jr, Danuel House Jr, KJ Martin, and De’Anthony Melton provides more optionality and the ability to produce at the necessary level on a game-by-game or matchup by matchup basis from the wing position.

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, right, shoots against Portland Trail Blazers’ Shaedon Sharpe, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

This also allows Daryl Morey to continue to evaluate Tyrese Maxey and see if he has taken the leap to NBA stardom in the way the early results indicate. Through the opening three games of the season, Maxey has averaged 30.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists.

He ranks in the top 20 in the NBA in both points and assists so far this season and his processing of the game looks to have taken a massive step forward. Maxey has already begun receiving national attention, being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and is far from content with himself. It is to be determined if Maxey is ready to take the leap as a true point guard that can run the Sixers offense, but the early results have been very encouraging and the two-man game between him and Embiid has been incredibly dynamic.

If Maxey does not prove to be ready, Morey added some significant draft capital which can be flipped for what this team is missing. This flexibility gives the Sixers time to figure out what they are still missing as more players begin to become available and capitalize when the moment is right.

So we can finally close the chapter of the James Harden era with the Sixers. There were some highs, but he was not the missing piece in the way it was hoped. The Sixers will continue on this season evaluating if Maxey may be growing into this very piece or if they must use these newfound assets to find it elsewhere. Daryl Morey stared down another tough situation and his patience has paid off once again.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File