OKLAHOMA CITY, October 29, 2012— The state of Oklahoma had a rough Saturday night. As Notre Dame was pulling away from the University of Oklahoma in college football, the news cut in with a breaking story just as text alerts were going off in the pockets of Sooner fans. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the state’s other sports obsession, had traded fan favorite James Harden.
Facebook posts immediately turned from Irish frustration to what are we going to do with all of these James Harden T-shirts?
Losing Harden was an inevitable truth that some fans had feared, but now that it’s a reality, the cold business of the NBA is giving fans mixed emotions.
There are many different ways to look at this move. Here are a few:
Pay the Max Or Get Something While You Can?
With money tied up in contracts for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins, signing Harden was going to be difficult financially. Giving him a large contract was going to put the Thunder over the luxury tax, costing them additional millions.
ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, who wrote a 700-page book on the NBA and who will be doing the NBA pre and post game show for ESPN this season, wrote that the Thunder must sign Harden. You only have a small window to win a championship, so you have to go for it.
Simmons, who understands the salary cap much better than most and certainly better than I do, said the Thunder makes more money than they let on and the management should suck it up and pay the reigning 6th Man of the Year.
The problem is that all of the aforementioned players had taken less money than they could have gotten. Harden had also mentioned that he was willing to sacrifice to stay with the team and win. The reported offer was $55 million for 4 years. The max deal would be about a million more a year.
Harden Turns Down the Offer, Giving a Couple of Options:
Option #1: Ride it out, make a championship run and probably lose Harden.
The problem with this is that this makes your window smaller. Let’s the say the Heat are by far the best team and they are the favorites to win the next six championships. Some would argue the Lakers are better than the Thunder even with Harden. So essentially you are giving yourself one year to go for broke, and if you don’t win it you have to fill that position.
If you get something for Harden now then you could possibly keep the window open longer. Leading to…
Option #2: Trade Harden for pieces to package or fill his spot.
So that’s where we sit now. Reports are that the Thunder made thier offer and gave an hour ultimatum. Harden called the bluff and got traded. The Thunder does have a plan. You may not like the plan, but so far it has worked. Paying Harden more doesn’t fit the plan. He turned them down so they abruptly ship him out of town.
Oklahoma City got Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two #1’s and a #2. If he walks they get nothing. Sportsillustrated.com gave the Rockets an A-, while giving the Thunder a B+. Both sides will take that.
When the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City there was a honeymoon period. The team was awful but got better very quickly. The team didn’t even need the grace period the fans would have allowed. They would have come to games anyway. The team won, the city fell in love and the honeymoon was over.
Most in the city hadn’t watched the NBA this closely. But the fans that did, knew this day would come. One day a player was going to turn down an offer. How would the fans in Oklahoma City react?
To Boo or Not to Boo:
Suddenly Facebook posts turned to the plans to boo Harden the next time he plays in the Chesapeake Arena. Let’s get something straight: Harden was traded. He didn’t choose to leave.
Yes, he turned down a really good offer from a team that has a chance to win a championship. But he didn’t leave. After watching the 30 for 30 doc on ESPN “Broke,” these guys need to get as much money as they can while they can. Sometimes you can’t have it both ways.
Don’t boo Harden. Keep in mind this is the city that boos Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
What did Paul do? He only played lights out for two years for the Hornets in Oklahoma City while the team was displaced because of Hurricane Katrina and may be more responsible for the NBA being in OKC than Clay Bennett. That’s right, I said it.
The NBA made the team go back to New Orleans to help rebuild the city. But screw him. We have to make sure he doesn’t think that we love him more than our Thunder. That makes a lot of sense.
What did Griffin do? Just grew up in Oklahoma City and played for OU when other state products leave for other programs like Sheldon Williams and Danny Orton. (Yes, I know they went to Duke and Kentucky. Yes, they are better programs than OU. Yes, Blake could have gone to either one of those schools also.) But Griffin got drafted first overall to another team, got really popular and the local paper puts him on the front page. So let’s boo him in case he thinks that we are proud of him even though he doesn’t play here.
Jay-Z said it best, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man!” The NBA and its players are a business. This is the first dose of that for a city that hasn’t had a team for long but has seen huge success anyway.
Harden will probably get what he wants in a max, long-term contract. Oklahoma City will probably still contend.
Both had plans. Both stuck to them.
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