As All-Star maestro James Harden and P.J. Tucker graced the hallowed halls of Crypto.com Arena, they encountered Lawrence Frank, the esteemed president of basketball operations for the Clippers. It wasn’t long before the exuberant Clippers owner, Steve Ballmer, warmly embraced his new acquisitions.
James Harden, sporting a pristine white hoodie and matching shorts, made a casual entrance into the Clippers’ inner sanctum on a Tuesday, donning an infectious smile. He exchanged pleasantries with inquisitive journalists on his way, a mere few hours before the Clippers’ commanding victory over the Orlando Magic, final score 118-102.
One intrepid reporter probed if James Harden was, in fact, exhilarated by his trade to the Clippers late the prior Monday night, an exchange yet to receive official confirmation.
“You cannot fathom,” Harden responded, conveying the gravity of his emotions. Harden’s departure from Philadelphia had been orchestrated, and he was accompanied by the indomitable Tucker. Together, they had journeyed here in exchange for Nicolos Batum, Marcus Morris Sr., Robert Covington, Kenyon Martin Jr., and an assortment of prospective draft picks.
Pre-game, Clippers’ mentor Ty Lue, restrained by the unofficial status of the trade, found himself unable to expound on the matter.
Even if the trade materialized late on Tuesday or early Wednesday, the anticipation was that Harden and Tucker wouldn’t grace the court against the Lakers on Wednesday evening, in light of the back-to-back games. Westbrook, meanwhile, seemed to revel in the moment, exchanging light-hearted banter with Harden, both of them having been former teammates in Oklahoma City and Houston, reigniting their camaraderie. “You’re holding up alright?” Westbrook teased Harden.
Westbrook, grinning, added, “You’re staying on that side.”
James Harden, in good humor, quipped, “Here to stay?”
“Do you know where you belong?” Westbrook asked, maintaining the playful exchange.
Moments later, Harden disregarded the jest and walked over to Westbrook, culminating in a heartfelt embrace. Subsequently, Tucker approached Westbrook, and they, too, shared a warm embrace.
Before long, Westbrook, Paul George, Harden, and Tucker found themselves in close proximity within the locker room, brimming with enthusiasm for the prospects of the Clippers, as they embarked on their quest for the franchise’s elusive NBA championship. Paul showcased his prospective contributions, notching 27 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including six successful three-pointers out of nine attempts.
Westbrook provided an intriguing glimpse of his potential with an 18-point contribution, accompanied by seven assists and six rebounds.
Despite the visible excitement, Westbrook adopted a guarded tone when discussing the presence of Harden and Tucker in the locker room. “For now, James and PJ remain off-limits,” Westbrook affirmed with a smile. “I’ll have nothing to offer until their status is officially confirmed. They are off-limits.”
Although unable to divulge details about the newcomers, Westbrook’s radiant countenance during his postgame press conference raised questions. When questioned whether this implied contentment with his newfound teammates, Westbrook responded affirmatively, “Indeed, why would I not be? I am genuinely delighted.” Westbrook even delved into the transformation in his demeanor since joining the Clippers, post an eventful stint with the Lakers, whom he was set to confront on the ensuing Wednesday night.
The Lakers had traded him to the Jazz the prior season, as their association was plagued by insurmountable issues. The Jazz subsequently facilitated Westbrook’s departure by granting him a buyout, leading him to join the Clippers in the preceding season.
What distinct circumstances had transpired within the Clippers that differed from his experience with the Lakers? Westbrook acknowledged there was a lengthy list of distinctions, but time constraints precluded a detailed elucidation. “However,” Westbrook mused, “I’m profoundly grateful for the opportunity to join a team that desired my presence during the challenging times. This has been an immensely rewarding journey for me, both personally and in terms of my basketball career. I committed to giving my absolute best, maintaining the spirit of the game’s essence, and channeling the exuberance that has been a constant in my life, from my earliest memories. This unbridled joy is what defines me.”