James Harden joined the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, far later than he wanted but still excited for the chance to win an NBA title with his long-suffering hometown club.
The 34-year-old superstar guard, who was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this week, said he plans to make his Clippers debut on Monday when they play at New York.
"I'm happy I'm here," Harden said. "I'm excited to show how good individually and how good this team can be and is going to be."
Harden, who said his role with the Sixers was "like being on a leash," called himself a "creator" on the court who was ready to change and adapt his game to make the Clippers into champions.
"I'm not a system player," Harden declared. "I am a system."
Harden, a 10-time All-Star, has been many things as he prepares to start his 15th NBA campaign. He won the 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player award. He was a three-time scoring champion from 2018-2020 and led the NBA in assists in 2017 and last year.
But he has never won an NBA title. Neither have two of his new star teammates, pal-since-youth Russell Westbrook and Paul George, although Kawhi Leonard has won crowns with San Antonio and Toronto.
"I think all of us are on the same page," Harden said. "All those individual stats are past us. Now we've all got one goal and I think everybody knows what that is.
"For me, it's going out here and finding the best way that I can contribute to this team.
"I'm very elite as an individual and I can fit in with anybody and make a championship run work."
The Clippers, a former NBA laughingstock, have never reached a conference final since the club was founded in Buffalo in the 1970-71 campaign.
But they have made the playoffs in 10 of the past 12 seasons and they have revived Harden's spirits after tough years with Brooklyn and the 76ers.
"Want to make my 15th year something special," Harden said. "Having an opportunity to be back here, where my entire family is, is even more special. I'm definitely excited."
He recalled looking up to Clippers players as a youth with Westbrook.
"We've got a goal we're trying to accomplish," Harden said. "What better way to do it than together and in LA?"
- 'I can facilitate' -
Harden is ready to take whatever role is needed alongside a squad formidable as defenders and potent as scorers.
"I can score the basketball but I'm a very good passer as well. I can facilitate," Harden said. "Whatever the team and coaching staff needs me to do, I've been preparing.
"As long as we win the game and everybody is feeling confident and good about themselves, that's all that really matters."
Harden, who won 2012 London Olympic gold, reached the NBA Finals with Oklahoma City in 2012 but lost to LeBron James-led Miami and was then traded to Houston, where he became a superstar with the Rockets.
He was traded to Brooklyn in January 2021 and expectations were high with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as teammates, but the combination never worked and after a "funky situation" he was traded to the 76ers in February 2022, saying he thought he would retire with the Sixers.
"The front office had other plans," Harden said. "They didn't want me. It was that simple."
Harden's unhappiness led to an off-season of complaints and harsh criticism about 76ers basketball operations boss Daryl Morey but eventually he got the trade he sought.
Now he said he's wiser about things that are out of his control, like injuries and front office issues, but he likes his chances for a title in a Clippers uniform.
"If you're just talking about strictly basketball, then we definitely have an opportunity," he said.