“His shape was better than I thought it would be,” Lue said, as Harden has yet to play in a game this season after spending time away from his previous team in Philadelphia leading up to Monday’s trade. “He pushed the pace, he pushed the basketball, made plays for his teammates and he looked really good.”
Now comes the part so many around the NBA, and everyone inside the Clippers, was eager to see: How does he fit in lineups alongside Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook?
“When you have four guys that can score the basketball and make plays, you know, this is just gonna be a process understanding our rotations, how we want to play, who we want to have on the floor together,” Lue said Thursday, before Harden’s first practice with all of his new teammates. “That's gonna be the process.
“I don't think the basketball, as far as playing basketball 48 minutes, is gonna be a problem. It's gonna be more so the fit and who works well together.”
Only Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr. did not practice Thursday while recovering from ankle and quadriceps injuries, respectively, giving the team their first true window into how the front office’s big swing to acquire Harden will pay off. Speaking on his own YouTube show, Mann said this week he has “no timeline” to return while describing an injury more serious than the team’s disclosure of an ankle sprain.
“I did some [damage] to some muscle in there, like I overstretched it, maybe tore a little,” Mann said.
With the Clippers not playing again until Monday in New York, in what team officials expect to be Harden’s debut, the days until then will be critical to ramping up Harden’s conditioning and implementing Lue’s preferred rotations. Lue did not expect a strict restriction on the number of minutes Harden can play when he debuts, but said his workload will be monitored.
Without revealing his new substitution pattern, he said he has “something in mind” for staggering the minutes of Leonard, George, Westbrook and Harden — ensuring at least one, or maybe two, are on the court as often as possible.
“We got a lot of great players,” center Ivica Zubac said. “We'll figure it out.”
Said backup point guard Bones Hyland: “I feel like it’s going to be really hard for defensive teams to adjust us. We have so many guys that can do everything. I feel like you won't be able to double as much.”
Depending on those rotations and to what degree Harden or Westbrook is asked to initiate the offense with reserves, Hyland is potentially one of the most affected by the addition of a second future Hall of Famer in the backcourt in as many seasons.
“[Harden] give his insight on things and other players give their insight on things as well, and we just go from there,” Hyland said. “Like Russ said a couple of days ago, it's not just going to mesh right away, it'll take some time.
"He just came along. So don't, don't look at it as like, ‘Oh, it's not clicking, it's not working yet.’ ”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.