James Harden wants Clippers core to stay intact. ‘Things are going well and I’m happy’

Los Angeles, CA, Tuesday, January 16, 2024 - LA Clippers guard James Harden (1) delivers an alley-oop pass to center Mason Plumlee (44) over Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) late in the game at Crypto.com Arena. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Clippers star James Harden said he has seen enough in 35 games with the team to want to remain with them long term.

Unlike his Clippers co-stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Harden isn’t currently eligible for an extension, unable to begin negotiating with the team on a new deal until after June’s NBA Finals but said “yes” when asked after a 128-117 win Tuesday against Oklahoma City about a report during the TNT broadcast that said he hoped to one day retire with the franchise.

“I thought the same thing last year, last team I was on [Philadelphia], that’s why I did all those sacrifices but I’m here, home,” Harden said. “We have an opportunity. I want to be able to keep the core together for a few years and I haven’t had those opportunities the last few years, so things are going well and I’m happy.”

The trio of Leonard, George and Harden has shown why staying together could benefit all. Lineups featuring all three have outscored opponents by 124 points in 630 minutes together.

Read more: Clippers beat Thunder after learning injured Ivica Zubac is out four weeks

Frustrated in Philadelphia by his feeling that the front office “had other plans” and “didn’t want me” as Harden said in November, he wanted to join the Clippers since June. The trade finally occurred in late October. The Clippers lost their first five games with Harden in the lineup to fall to 3-7. But since Nov. 17, the Clippers are 23-7.

Harden is averaging 17.0 points, 8.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He has changed the way he has played, from taking more catch-and-shoot three-pointers, to shifting the substitution pattern he was long accustomed to, helping the Clippers find a way to make their rotations work.

Leonard agreed to a three-year, $152.3-million extension last week. George, who has a $48-million player option for the 2024-25 season, remains eligible for an extension worth up to four years and more than $220 million, the same amount Leonard could have signed for. The team and George’s representation remain in contact, with both sides signaling a desire to remain together, and George has said he is “very, very optimistic” a deal to keep him with the Clippers will be reached.

“With the conversation that I have with them about [their futures], I think for the most part everybody is coming back,” Leonard said last week. “So with me signing an extension, I think it gives us a chance to sign both of those players.”

Read more: It’s official: Clippers to host 2026 All-Star Game at Intuit Dome

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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