Thunder, Rockets Trade Fallout: Why Did James Harden Get Moved?
Tomorrow, it all starts. The NBA regular season is upon us.
If you don't know by now, a shocking trade happened over the weekend. James Harden is now a Houston Rocket after contract talks broke off with the Oklahoma City Thunder. You can't blame both sides for trying to do business. I felt Sam Presti pulled the trigger too early because I believe you shouldn't mess with a good thing but what do I know? I'm not a general manager... and this is why I'm just a lowly wannabee NBA writer.
What I don't get is the huge blame on James Harden.
Harden and his agent, Rob Pelinka, wanted the maximum contract (which would be a reported $60 million in four years). OKC was offering four years and a reported $54 million or $55 million, depending on who you want to believe. Yes, $54 million is a lot of money. Some of us would love it if we could earn $1 million over a lifetime.
But when you know you can earn more, why not hold out for it? Even though it is $54 million, Harden didn't want to leave $6 million on the table. Yes, he's already a millionaire... but $6 million is STILL a lot of money no matter how you look at it. And for a 23-year-old like Harden, you want to try to earn as much money as possible. You can't blame the kid.
Call it greedy if you want. But we're all human. Let's roleplay for a little bit here. Pretend you're young or/and you're someone that's really never had a lot of money. You're working at a job you love and you're earning $15 an hour. Then there's a job that's offering you $20 an hour that looks slightly less desirable but you could probably learn to like/love it. You'd better believe I'm taking the $20 an hour job. You gotta do what's best for yourself.
And Harden is doing what's best for himself, as ridiculous as that sounds because of the money. If you were in Harden's shoes (either you're at age 23 or you're having your first and possibly only big money deal), wouldn't you try to hold out for the extra millions as long as possible when you know for sure you can get that deal anywhere else (teams like Phoenix, Dallas, and, of course, Houston were ready to shell out big deals once Harden was a restricted free agent next summer)? Certainly I would have.
So Harden gambled, thinking that Sam Presti was bluffing. They weren't. So now he's a Houston Rocket. But his reward for getting traded? He's now eligible for even more money. His earnings have gone from a possible $54 million to $80 million because of the CBA rule where only one player can be designated for having a 5-year contract (Russell Westbrook had that deal in the new CBA while Kevin Durant's is under the old CBA). So it's NOT all bad for Harden (that's an understatement).
As for Oklahoma City, why didn't they give the max? The luxury tax has become a problem. They were already paying Durant and Westbrook with max deals. Serge Ibaka took a 4-year, $48 million deal. Kendrick Perkins is in the middle of a 5-year, $39 million deal (another one under the old CBA). Harden's deal would've cost a lot more than the face value of his contract. OKC obviously doesn't want the payroll to be incredibly high so they gave the highest possible amount to Harden. The difference of $6 million ($1.25 million per year) is really a lot more than that; it could be the difference of them paying something like $4 more million in taxes in the first year of Harden's hypothetical max contract (and likely more in each year thereafter). We can certainly argue that Clay Bennett should've gone ahead and shelled out those extra millions but you certainly can't say they didn't try to please Harden. $13+ million per year for Harden is actually quite a reasonable contract; it's just that the marketplace has set his price beyond that (Eric Gordon, a guy who only played nine games last year, got a 4-year, $58 million deal).
And we haven't even gotten into the distractions part of the game. Harden and the team would get tons of questions (remember the Dwightmare and the Melodrama) throughout the season. It would take a toll on the team for sure so they traded him while they could. Whether OKC's new assets will pan out or not is a question that will be answered in probably a year's time. But the Thunder didn't walk away emptyhanded and didn't let Harden walk away, which was pretty likely to happen next summer knowing what we know now.
So they traded Harden and his beard even though they still had a four-day window at the time. Houston had a deal on the table that OKC liked. And the Rockets wanted that window so that they could extend Harden's contract. You can't blame Harden for wanting more money and you can't blame OKC for the trade. But by doing that, the Thunder might've blown their chance at the title this year as we know how important James Harden is to the team (the Thunder are KNOWN to be a very close-knit squad). We will be watching closely. After all of this behind-the-scenes stuff, the main goal of the game is still winning championships.
But it all came down to business. Again, Harden played poker with Sam Presti and Harden lost. Except he really didn't because he got more money out of it. It's really business as usual in the NBA and this is nothing new.
Just understand where James Harden is coming from. If you ever get into a money situation like this (chances are that it will very likely be on a much smaller scale), you would understand.