The James Harden trade is one of the most analyzed trades of all-time.
The 2012 deal, which sent Harden from the Thunder to the Rockets, backfired for Oklahoma City. Harden has developed into a star, and the Thunder didn’t get nearly enough return in hindsight.
But their thinking at the time of the trade has often been defended for two major reasons:
1. Oklahoma City — with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka already signed long-term – was wary of paying the luxury tax year after year. The salary cap has risen higher than anticipated, making this concern less important, but the Thunder probably couldn’t have known the cap would climb so quickly.
2. With Durant and Westbrook, Oklahoma City thought another perimeter scorer like Harden would be superfluous. The Thunder could turn Harden into a collection of more helpful assets, and the trade netted starting center Steven Adams.
Was there also another reason Oklahoma City — coming off a loss to the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals — dealt Harden?
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:
It was a lot more about James and James’ mindset. You’re kind of seeing it play out now in Houston, is what the Oklahoma City Thunder were afraid of, and that is, if you rewind back to the NBA Finals run, James was kind of a ghost in the NBA Finals. In Miami, there were rumors that he was out late on South Beach.
Harden might have partied too much in Miami, though this also strikes me as the type of rumor people believe simply because it fits the facts.
After averaging 19.3 points per game on 49.1% shooting, including 39.1% on 3-pointers, in the regular season, Harden’s output plunged in the Finals — 12.4 points per game on 37.5% shooting, including 31.8% on 3-pointers.
Whatever caused Harden’s downturn, the Rockets have surely been glad to have him. They’ve certainly gotten more than enough production from him to justify the trade.
But Houston is also learning the pitfalls of relying on Harden.
Did the Thunder have reason to see those coming?