James Harden didn’t want to be traded from the Thunder. He said as much. He was having fun on a contending team that he had kind of grown up in the NBA on.
But business is business. Harden earned his right to get paid — the Thunder reportedly offered four years, $52 million (an offer that may have gone up to $53 million) and Harden rejected it. If he waited until the end of the season, he would get $60 million offers, and at age 23 the man wants to get paid. He’s getting slammed in OKC by people who would do a lot worse for $6 million, but that’s another story (just keep reading).
Oklahoma City’s owners have a bottom line and didn’t want to play the waiting game so the team traded Harden to Houston.
James Harden boarded an airplane Sunday morning, bound for Houston. He was “devastated,” said someone who knows the Bearded One. Harden and his family both….
But (Thunder GM) Sam Presti told him. Presti’s lips now are sealed, but sources from both parties said that the Thunder appealed one final time to Harden on Friday. Upped its offer to $53 million over four years but told Harden if he didn’t take it, he would be traded to Houston.
Presti didn’t use that as a warning. He used it as a plea. He desperately wanted to keep Harden, but this was the last best offer.
And the Thunder gave Harden an hour to accept.
I imagine the trade was difficult for Harden. I also imagine he’s going to get over it pretty quickly.
The Thunder owners made a choice — they want a certain profitability with the team and that means keeping payroll at a certain point (especially with an escalating tax on payroll coming into play next season). Even if it cost them some wins and maybe more. That is their right.
Harden wanted to get paid, a max deal. That is his right.
So the sides part ways. Oklahoma City got some assets back but certainly got a little worse in the short term. (I have Thunder fans trying to tell me that Kevin Martin and Eric Maynor are going to make up for Sixth Man of the Year and Olympian, I don’t buy it. It’s a step back, not a big one but with the Lakers out there it could be magnified.)
Harden went from playing with friends on a contender to playing for a rebuilding team that likely isn’t playoff bound this season.
But Houston can offer a five-year, $78 million contract extension. That’s a max deal one year larger than Oklahoma City could offer (teams are only allowed one five-year max in the new CBA and OKC wisely gave its to Russell Westbrook). Harden is expected to sign it, maybe before the day is out.
Harden gets one more guaranteed year and $25 million more guaranteed dollars. At age 23. If you’re slamming him for this, you’re saying you would have turned down that money at his age? Sure you would have. There are no guarantees in life or the NBA, so if someone offers you $25 million more guaranteed you jump on it. Tom Ziller put it well at SB Nation so I’ll let him have the final word.
I joked Saturday night that there is very, very little you cannot buy with $24 million, and that though Harden will miss the Thunder, he’ll find a way to be okay. A few replied that one of the things you can’t buy with $24 million is an NBA championship. That’s true. But let’s not assume that a greater chance at an NBA championship is worth $24 million to everyone … or anyone. I don’t know much about Harden’s childhood, but I know I wouldn’t be turning down the opportunity for an extra $24 million at age 23 based on some principles, unless those principles had to do with good and evil.
We act as if Harden will never have another friend again after leaving Kevin Durant. We act as if taking the discount with OKC would have guaranteed Harden a championship. (We do this as most of us pick the Lakers to win the West.) Nothing is guaranteed in the NBA, so you’d better take those guarantees when you get them. All of that extra money? That’s likely to be guaranteed. Take it, if you want. If friendship and a better chance at professional glory mean that much to you, sign the discounted deal. Don’t let social norms and middle-aged white men in the media guilt you into it, though. Do what you feel you should be doing.