There should be no looking back at this pont for James Harden. He’s flourishing in his new role with his new team, leading the league in scoring through three games with the Rockets at an average of over 35 points per contest.
But Oklahoma City was a special situation; there was a core of young players there who built a legitimate contender that went to the Finals just a season ago, and team chemistry seemed to be valued there perhaps more than other places.
That last part might be why Harden is still talking about how his departure came about, because although it’s business, there might have been some hurt feelings along the way.
The latest details, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
Even with the rapid embrace of life as the franchise player for the Houston Rockets, something still troubles All-Star guard James Harden about the way his departure unfolded with the Oklahoma City Thunder: Why didn’t officials give him longer than an hour to consider a final four-year, $54 million offer before trading him?
“After everything we established – everything we had done – you give me an hour?” Harden told Yahoo! Sports on Monday afternoon. “This was one of the biggest decisions of my life. I wanted to go home and pray about it. It hurt me. It hurt.”
That may seem harsh, but the Thunder were just trying to shift the negotiating leverage in the team’s favor by shortening Harden’s window to accept.
OKC likely knew Harden wasn’t budging off of his max deal demand, so this was one last desperate attempt to try to get him to make a quick decision that was in the team’s best interest, and not the player’s.
It’s the reality of business in the NBA, no different than that of any other industry. Harden has the right to be hurt by how it all went down, but he’s clearly in a better situation in Houston — both financially and professionally. It’s time to embrace it.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.