Grading James Harden's extension: Clippers overpay for has-been star

The Clippers got James Harden back in town, but how good will the deal end up being for the team?
Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets / Tim Warner/GettyImages

After weeks of uncertainty, the LA Clippers locked up one of their best players moments before he hit the open market. 

According to The Athletic, James Harden will return to the franchise on a two-year/$70M deal one year after forcing his way to Tinseltown. Few teams vying to contend had the capital to give the 34-year-old a competitive offer, so it's no surprise the Clippers were able to retain his services. 

In his 72 games for the club, Harden was a talented offensive engine, despite having had his worst scoring output since his second year in the NBA. As a primary facilitator, he was fourth in the league in assists and helped ease the ball-handling burdens of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

As Harden enters the twilight of his career, is bringing him back with such a steep price tag the best move for an organization desperate to be in the hunt for a championship? 

The Clippers invested too much into a declining player

It's difficult to ignore the immense baggage that comes with Harden in uniform. He's flamed out spectacularly in his previous three spots, to the point where there was speculation he was intentionally tanking his performance on the court to improve his chances of getting dealt. Two years ago, his playstyle dramatically changed after he was snubbed from the All-Star game, prompting the Philadelphia 76ers to spiral down the standings and flame out in the postseason. He is not short on ways to become a problem. 

Even at the peak of his powers, playoff concerns have always had to factor into the Harden experience. Moreso than ever, he's feast or famine when the lights are brightest. A few months ago, he posted a masterful game five in Dallas that saw him carve his way to the paint and destroy the Mavericks with an onslaught of floaters. Across the next two contests, he shot 7-for-28 from the field and looked like a cheap imitation of his former self. 

At this point, he's a regular season floor raiser who projects best as a table-setter point guard. Harden can run an offense in spurts but can't complement that ability with consistent high-end scoring. It's hard to imagine that he could be the second- or third-best player on a title team, which means that Lawrence Frank would have to get creative if the Clippers are seriously pursuing a ring. 

It's understandable why the front office didn't want to let an asset walk for nothing in return, but in some cases, complacency is the best option. What other franchise submitted a bid for Harden in the same ballpark as the Clippers? It's a gross overpay for a defensive and professional liability whose excellence in other areas of the game no longer mitigates those issues.

Final Grade: C-