Do the LA Clippers have a James Harden problem?

Should the LA Clippers be concerned about a potential playoff collapse for James Harden?
Should the LA Clippers be concerned about a potential playoff collapse for James Harden? / Alika Jenner/GettyImages

Some NBA players are divisive by nature. Opinions on them will always vary. Their most strident defenders will never give up on them, and their critics won't cede any ground.

James Harden of the LA Clippers is one of those players. It's always been that way. Harden is one of the most gifted NBA players that we've ever seen. That hasn't earned him the unconditional love of the basketball world.

As a person, Harden seems aloof. That's fine - he's not in the NBA to make friends. He's in the NBA to win games. Yet, even Harden's ability to do that has come into question.

Sure, he can help a team rack up regular-season wins. Can he get it done in the postseason? Harden has had incredible performances in the playoffs, but he's turned in some stinkers as well.

That's been a pattern throughout Harden's NBA career. Unfortunately, he seems to be falling back into some old habits lately.

LA Clippers star skips on media scrum

Let's be honest - talking to the media is not an important component of an NBA player's job description. So, the fact that Harden recently skipped on a media scrum should hardly even register as news.

Only - he's James Harden. Any hint of discontentedness should merit some concern. It feels like a happy Harden is a productive Harden. We've seen a disheartened Harden before. He doesn't always come up big when the lights are bright.

Perhaps that's a stretch. We can't quantify the idea that there's any relationship between Harden being demonstrably upset and Harden underperforming in the playoffs. Still, we have to speculate that it's possible.

Can the LA Clippers depend on Harden?

Harden's playoff resume isn't as weak as some of his detractors would claim. It's mixed. This is a guy who's had multiple 40-point performances in the postseason.

He's also the same guy who turned the ball over 13 times in a 2015 playoff performance against the Spurs. Why is Harden so inconsistent? Is it mental?

That feels likely to an extent. The ability to maintain focus and execute throughout an entire playoff run is rare. Harden may not have it.

Are his shortcomings his own fault?

LA Clippers should be a perfect fit for Harden

Yes and no. There are a lot of grey areas here.

Harden hasn't always had the best-fitting teams around him. He hasn't had the best luck, either. Throughout much of his tenure with the Houston Rockets, he was carrying role players and an angry Dwight Howard. When the Rockets paired him with Chris Paul, they were arguably the best team in the NBA - until Paul got hurt.

When Harden forced his way to the Brooklyn Nets, he was able to settle into a distributor role alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Unfortunately, Durant got hurt. From that point, the Nets quickly descended into chaos.

By contrast, the Philadelphia 76ers never felt like a natural fit. Joel Embiid is too good to be relegated to a pick-and-roll finisher, but Harden isn't an optimal off-ball weapon for a low post scorer. Either way, we never got to see their potential: Embiid got hurt too.

It's always felt like Harden should be paired with a 3-and-D wing who can create his own shot. On the LA Clippers, he's with two of them. This is the best fit Harden has ever had for his skillset.

If he's going to take advantage, he'll need to lock in.