The Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers will trade for James Harden more soon than at any other time this summer. One unprotected first-round pick, one first-round swap, and backup guard Terance Mann were the things that Sam Amick of The Athletic said on Thursday that 76ers general manager Daryl Morey was willing to trade for Harden in return for. The Clippers replied by telling the 76ers they would not include Mann in any deal for Harden.
It needs to be clarified that the choice was the best, but there is some sense. The Clippers’ current team is the second-oldest in the NBA, and with Harden, it will only get older. Mann is the second-youngest player in their planned rotation, after Ivica Zubac, who will start at center. For the Clippers to get the same pay as Harden, they would have to give up a lot of money. Many of those deals, like those of Nic Batum, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington, belong to players that the Clippers want to keep around for depth. Mann would be a good backup for Harden.
Amick says Morey’s answer to Mann’s untouchability was that the Clippers were not being “serious” in their talks. Honestly, Morey is fitting, given how the Clippers have used Mann. Mann may be young by Clipper’s standards, but he is already 27 years old and seems to be in his prime right now. He is a short-term project for growth. The Clippers cut his minutes down a lot last season, from 28.6 to 23.1 per game. Even though he had one of the best seasons of his career last year, the Clippers put him on the bench so Russell Westbrook could play.
Even though the Clippers would have lost because of illness, either way, the choice itself turned out badly statistically. Teams that had Mann, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George in their lineups but not Westbrook scored a crazy 129.3 points per 100 possessions last season, beating their opponents by 7.5 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers only beat their opponents by 1.8 points per 100 plays when Westbrook played with the superstar duo. They also had an abysmal offensive rating of 109.8. Mann can push the pace just as well as Westbrook, but he doesn’t have to worry about being unable to shoot.
Based on how they played in the preseason, Westbrook will start over Mann unless Harden is traded. After all, he only played 21.9 minutes per game as a backup after Westbrook came in. Mann could become the next Leonard or George as the face of the Clippers if he were 19 years old and still developing. In that case, keeping him out of trade talks might make sense.
He’s not, though. He is a 27-year-old player with untapped talent that the Clippers are unwilling to use. The Clippers have put four years of effort into Mann’s growth. They know him better than any other NBA team. They should start him if they think he’s good enough to start. They should trade him for Harden if they don’t want to keep him. Harden is much better than both Mann and Westbrook.
There’s a chance this is a trick to getting what you want. It’s like Morey to take at least what’s being offered. He was ready to wait eight months to trade for Ben Simmons, so why not do the same thing with Harden? That makes more sense if they’re strategically admitting that Westbrook doesn’t belong on the same team as Harden but needs someone else to help with transitions. After months of talks, a hard choice needs to be made because opening night is coming up soon.
With the Clippers as they are now, they have a minimal chance of competing for a title. They are aware of this, which is why they are after Harden. There is rarely a reason for a team to wait for a backup player when they know they need that player to win the title. The Clippers should use Mann like the untouchable player they say he is to show that he is more than just a backup.