Last night, I’m sitting in a restaurant enjoying some drinks and laughing it up with family. My uncle cranes his neck up towards the flat screen hanging above our table. “Oh Damn, they traded him” He exclaims. I look up to see James Harden and his beard smiling back at me. Flashing across the screen is the breaking story of Harden being traded to the Houston Rockets. I lower my head and gaze deeply into my glass. I think to myself, Um this is only my second margarita. No way am I already drunk. “Wait, what?” I cautiously say. As if ESPN wasn’t already making it perfectly clear.

crying indian

Apparently OKC couldn’t get Harden to agree to a four year extension worth in the neighborhood of $53-$55 million. Rather than let Harden leave via free agency, Sam Presti and company made the bold choice to trade their reigning 6th Man of the Year. They’re sending Harden, along with Cole Aldrich, Deaquan Cook, and Lazar Haywood to Houston. The Rockets are getting rid of Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 first round picks, and 1 second round pick. The max Harden could have signed would have been $60 million. We’re talking about a $5-$7 million difference and $1.25-$1.75 mil per year over 4 seasons. At first glance it would seem as if the Thunder are breaking up a championship level team for relatively small amounts of money. However, signing Harden to the max would have pushed the Thunder over the salary cap and in to luxury tax waters. That’s no place to be for a franchise located in the third smallest market.

Meanwhile, 1,328 miles away in Los Angeles, Mitch Kupchak is sitting in his office puffing on a pre finals victory cigar. The Lakers and their monstrous television contract can construct pretty much any team they’d like with little regard to tax penalties. Small market franchises have to hope stars will be willing to take less money to play in a less attractive city with possibly less attractive women.

The Thunder groupies aren't that bad

Maybe Harden felt slighted by OKC’s offer. Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were maxed out when their time came. But Harden was the one asked to take less. James is taking a major risk by scoffing at the latest offer. He has to now play for a different team, in a different system, with a different coach, and a different point guard. All eyes will be on him, and if he under performs, he could see himself signing a contract for less than the one Sam Presti had on the table.

In my OKC season preview I didn’t think they would have any trouble getting Harden to accept less than the max. We kept hearing how close the Thunder’s Big Three were. How it was similar to a college atmosphere. There were no egos or agendas. They were all focused on winning the title and the money was a non issue. On the outside it appears James has let someone get in his ear. Possibly convinced that he deserved more…That he was owed more. This whole thing is starting to stink of greed and pride. Oklahoma City could conceivably still win the title. But if they do, Harden will have to watch it take place from afar.
Blogger Justin said...
Would you rather keep Ibaka or Harden?

Blogger Wormboy said...
Bully! And well played with the 70s littering indian.

Here's the thing though. Harden gacked it up in the Finals. Harden got garbage time minutes in the Olympics. He looks a little ragged in the pre-season. I'm going to say that OKC should have given Ibaka just a little under the max, then the same with Harden. I'm betting that it was Ibaka's compensation that chapped Harden's nads. He's thinking, "I'm Manu Ginobili Mark II, and they're paying Robert Horry more?"

Bad call on Harden's part. You're right, somebody got into his ear. I wonder if 10 years from now we'll see Harden jockeying to get on a contender for the mid-level. He's just not a franchise player. He's better as 6th man, and I bet that OKC core gets a ring if Harden stays around (that's a bet against Kobe's knees, Nash's back, Pau's spine {snap!}, Wade's knees and Bosh's balls.)

I'm going to call it Sonics karma. Take that, Clay Bennett.

Blogger Glenn said...
Well said, the small market teams are really getting the shit end of the stick with the luxury tax. It's fitting your uncle should break the news to you. The untimely dissolution of this promising young squad is the kind of sports moment that brings multiple generations of fans together in their disappointment. Speaking of bringing the generations together, maybe it's just the bottle I've crawled into talking, but that groupie on the right is looking fairly sexy. I bet she's seen things.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Why is it a bad call on Harden's part? He shouldn't be expected to take less than market value just because the team cries poor/small market (extra hilarious when you remember the ownership group willingly moved the franchise to that small market).

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Karma's a bitch. Enjoys Perk's contract.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
small market or not, a championship window is not something one slams shut over a few (million) bucks.
Especially for a team as marketable as the young thunder.
Last week is saw OKC as probable repeat finalists.
The way they are now they had better hope they can avoid both LA teams in the playoffs. They're going to miss harden's playmaking badly

Anonymous David said...
Did not make this, but it gave me a laugh:

Anonymous JJ said...
I think the owners should have swallowed the luxury tax. As first Anon pointed out, it's ridiculous to blame "small market" when they were the ones who decided to move there in the first place.

Although it may seem petty that Harden didn't sign over a few mil, it also makes sense when you consider every other main member got a max. For pro athletes, it's all about pride and respect.

It would have been tricky since it wasn't at the same time, but Thunder management should have convinced everyone to take slightly less than max and kept everyone. Maybe they saw Harden struggle in Finals and thought they could afford to lose him, but it was a big, big mistake to let a chance (or multiple chances) for Championship slip away like that.

Blogger Unknown said...
Well, it's not like they let him walk for nothing, OKC got a lot back in that deal. I don't think he was deserving of a max deal. The guy went completely MIA in the playoffs and was nowhere to be seen. If you are going to win Championships you can't be completed ghost in playoff series like he was...and expect a max contract.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Is Ibaka getting the max? I thought he was making 48 or 50 mill. Is that the max he was eligible for?

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Guess we should take away LeBron's max contract then.

You expect to get what the market is willing to pay, and a bunch of teams would give Harden a max contract so that's what he deserves. And if the Thunder don't want to pay it because they're a poor lil' ol' market (LOLOLOL) then they can trade him too. Ain't life grand.

Blogger Wormboy said...
Everybody's talking about "the market" as if it is some gospel that God handed down to Moses. Horse shit! There are many factors to be calculated, and the precise size of the paycheck is just one.

Exhibits A through W: each year, look at how many veterans are scrambling to get on the roster of a contender. By the time you hit your early 30s you realize that an extra 1000 ft in your 15,000 foot mansion doesn't mean squat compared to a good playoffs run. And how many good but not Hall of Famer types (read: James Harden) have we seen over the years disappear into a black hole in a perennial bottom-dwelling franchise? Then they retire and disappear into the void: nobody knows them, and nobody cares.

Exhibit X: Your paycheck isn't your total financial compensation. Champions make a ton of money in endorsements. They have lives after they retire. All that takes is one ring, even as third option. Just ask Manu.

Exhibit Y: Do you realize how fun it is to be on a contender? Winning great playoff series? Having perfect chemistry? By all accounts these guys really liked playing together! When is the last time you saw that?

Exhibit Z: Money can't buy you happiness. It just can't. Didn't you listen to the freakin Beatles?

Conclusion #1: Harden is a DUMB ASS. He is Shawn Marion 2.0, and soon he will be praying that he lucks his way back onto a contender like Marion did.

Conclusion #2: Presti is a DUMB ASS. The stars can align to make a small market contender every few decades. He let his draft luck go to his head and he thinks he's the Stephen Hawking of GMs (yes, some savvy, but every draft involves LUCK, and he had more than his fair share given the bust rate.) Dude, how many years of Durant's prime have you gambled for unknown pieces?!?!

Conclusion #3: The Curse of Sasquatch. It has begun. You think the Red Sox and the Curse of the Bambino were bad? Boston is one of teh major US cities. The Thunder are located in Oklahoma City! Do you remember the last time you went to OKC? Exactly. Let's start taking bets on how many decades it takes for OKC to win a ring.

Anonymous Sol Orwell said...
OKC made $25 million last year. And $20 million before. And almost $10 million the year before.

Secondly, Harden will have a max contract in place well before the season ends. Sorry, you don't know NBA if you think the isn't gonna be locked up by Houston after they traded him.

Blogger Unknown said...
I don't think it a safe assumption to assume that he was happy there. We don't know what it's really like. Durant could be a total a-hole or maybe Westbrook smells funny and they always have to share rooms. The NBA is too corporate these days and the players rarely say anything to rock the boat, so while it may have looked like everything was honky-dory in OKC, that could've been everyone just being good company people.