Since that blockbuster deal, Harden and the Rockets have been the talk of the NBA. The team has started 2-1 because of James stellar play, with convincing victories over the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks. He currently leads the NBA in scoring at just under 36 points a game, while also contributing 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He was just named the Western Conference Player of the Week.
With the league taking full notice of James Harden and the elite level he’s currently competing at, many turned to the Oklahoma City Thunder and wondered how exactly the team could get let go of such a spectacular athlete with such little fuss.
Now that time has passed and the smoke has cleared on the deal, even more details are emerging on what exactly went down between James and Thunder management the night he got traded.
It appears that Harden was given just one hour to make up his mind on whether or not he was willing to sign the extension presented by Thunder GM Sam Presti.
“After everything we established – everything we had done – you give me an hour?
“This was one of the biggest decisions of my life. I wanted to go home and pray about it. It hurt me. It hurt.”
Could more time have really altered his decision?
“Who knows? Another day, who knows what another day would’ve done?”
In the end, Harden made the decision that was best for him, not only from a financial standpoint, but a basketball standpoint as well.
It must have been difficult to leave a team which he was such an integral part of. He helped lead the Thunder to the NBA Finals last season, before the team eventually fell in 5 games to the Miami Heat. He also won a gold medal with teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the USA Men’s Basketball team in London this past summer as well.
“I was there with talented guys in Oklahoma City, some All-Star guys, and I would’ve been in the back seat there – which I was fine with – but I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to show how talented I really am. It’s a different opportunity for me here.”
The 5 year, $80 million dollar deal he eventually signed with Houston was a huge upgrade over what he was originally offered, but being a Rocket afforded James the opportunity to really showcase what he can do. He was never going to be anything more than the third option on the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook are the two focal points of the offense, and regardless of the talent Harden possessed, that methodology was never going to change.
James immediately shunned the idea of him leaving the Thunder franchise just because of the dollar bill.
“I heard that I was greedy; that I didn’t care about winning; heard the questioning of my loyalty. And I’m thinking: ‘Of course I want to win. I’ve been winning my entire life.”
“Everybody has their own opinion about me [as a role player and focus of a team]. I can do both: I’m versatile. Growing up in college, in high school, I was the focal point. I was the leader. I was the go-to guy. I was the third overall pick. I took a back seat and did whatever it took for the team to win. Some nights I scored, some nights I passed. Whatever was needed to win. Now, I’m back to my old ways: Needing to be the leader, needing to score. In any situation, I’m going to be good.”
Now seeing the success Harden is having in Houston, did Thunder management make the best decision in dealing him as soon as they did?
The answer is no.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that if Presti kept the trio of Durant/Westbrook/Harden together for the long haul, that they could have won multiple world championships for the organization.
Thunder management did the best they could to sign Harden to an extension, but the money he was asking for was too much. They didn’t believe he was a max contract player who should warrant the same amount as a Durant or Westbrook.
Obviously now, James is proving all of his doubters and skeptics wrong.
I’m rather shocked to hear that Presti gave Harden just one hour to make up his mind on the situation. I realize he wanted to move forward and get a definitive answer (to avoid a Carmelo Anthony situation perhaps?), but considering the stakes involved, wouldn’t it have been wise to just take more time and see if a better deal could be reached?
There was no need to rush. Waiting until the offseason and pulling the trigger on a sign-and-trade would have been the better option, especially with the added time it would have provided to perhaps reach a better deal, if at all possible of course. He’s too good a player to just send away without really thinking it through (that’s exactly what they did in the end.)
The talents of James Harden are immense. Now that he’s a Rocket, we can all see the potential he has to be one of the biggest stars in the league today.
The Thunder will be fine. Losing Harden wasn’t a franchise killer by any stretch of the imagination. OKC will once again find themselves near the top of the Western Conference competing for an NBA Championship, even without Harden.
What could have been though…..
Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports