The new-look Los Angeles Clippers are 0-5 with James Harden and lost their sixth straight game overall to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. While adding such a notable playmaker to a talent pool that already included Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard seemed destined to improve the Clippers' title hopes, they've fallen by the wayside while attempting to define roles and establish rotations. Coach Ty Lue believes that they'll all have to give up a little freedom for things to work.
"This is my toughest challenge as a head coach, but I'm up for the task for sure," Lue told Bleacher Report when addressing the difficulties he's had with his current personnel to mesh. "The biggest thing is getting these guys to sacrifice for guys, whether that's starting the game, finishing the game, shots, touches, who's running pick-and-rolls, and things like that. Getting these guys to sacrifice will be the biggest challenge all season."
The Clippers have had elite players for a while, but health has been an issue since Leonard and George joined up ahead of the 2019-20 season. The duo appeared in 118 regular-season games together between then and the end of 2022-23. The Clippers went 83-35 during that span. Both stars averaged at least 21.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists on efficient shooting splits. While there haven't been any major injury scares for the Clippers this season, chemistry is hard to come by with so many mouths to feed.
"We're all honoring this adjustment. We have to sacrifice. We understand it. Simple as that. No one is going against that. Nobody is frustrated about it," George said regarding the Clippers' current state. "...We want to make each other better, and I don't think one person is complaining one bit about it."
George appears to have taken over as the top dog on offense and leads the Clippers in scoring with 24.7 points per game this season. However, no Clipper has averaged more than 21.0 points per game over their previous five games. George has notched 20.6 points per contest while Leonard (18.0) and Harden (15.0) have trailed him during that stretch. Harden, who's long been one of the league's best distributors, is adjusting to not running the offense as a ball-dominant floor general.
"Just communication and making sure I'm doing my part with preparation and knowing where we're trying to get to on both sides of the ball," Harden said when identifying what he's working on in his new role. "I've played a handful of games, and obviously we're not winning, but I'm off the ball more than I've ever been in a very long time. I'm just trying to find a balance between that and getting more pick-and-rolls."
Harden's incorporation has apparently bumped reserves like Bones Hyland out of the rotation for the foreseeable future. Lue has told him as much will happen while the Clippers iron things out. It's clear that there's plenty of work for Los Angeles to do. The Clippers will have to build on what worked against the defending champs soon if they want to contend, as they sit at 12th in the Western Conference.