Whether you choose to believe this or not really comes down to how much you believe in ESPN’s Bill Simmons.
But NBA trades do not work where a potential available player is only discussed with one team. If a GM is shopping — or even just testing the market — for a specific player then that idea is bounced off a number of teams. You don’t buy a new car by just showing up at the dealer and taking the price he offers, you check online and get a sense of the price of the car from multiple places before making a purchase. Trades work more like that.
So you can be sure that the Rockets were not the only team James Harden was shopped to before the season. The Rockets just jumped at it and had the best deal. But in his column at Grantland about the worst salaries in the NBA (which is admittedly a week old) Simmons threw in this nugget. (Hat tip to The Big Lead for finding this, I didn’t read the column.)
Multiple sources have told me that, when Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti decided to shop James Harden, Golden State was his first call. He wanted Klay Thompson and a pick. The Warriors would only consider the trade if Oklahoma City took back Biedrins or Jefferson for 2013 expirings, knowing they’d get crushed by the luxury tax in 2014 with Harden’s extension plus Steph Curry’s extension plus David Lee plus Bogut/Jefferson/Biedrins.13 At that point, Presti went to Washington (offering Harden for Bradley Beal, and unbelievably getting turned down), then Houston (where the shopping heated up). Presti never ended up calling Golden State back.
Again, what you think of this depends on what you think of Simmons. The Wizards news isn’t new. You can be sure Presti didn’t just talk to Daryl Morey about the deal, but trades also don’t happen in quite the linear fashion described. There is back and forth over time and usually one option being explored heats up. You can believe what you want, there likely is some truth here at least.
The other thing of note: When this trade went down the question was “How good is James Harden, really?” No doubt he was good, the guy had gone to the finals the year before as a key cog for the Oklahoma City Thunder. But the question was could he be a franchise anchor? He could be a No. 2, a No. 1A maybe, but in OKC Kevin Durant is the Alpha Dog. There were legitimate questions about how Harden would perform when thrown into that role.
Turns out, Harden can be the alpha dog. The guy you can build a franchise around. And the Wizards and Warriors could use a guy like that.