The following was written literally minutes before Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that the OKC Thunder have just traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets in return for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and several future draft picks. OKC will also be sending Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daquan Cook as part of the deal.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have four days left to try and bridge the $8 million gap in what they are offering and what reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden is reportedly demanding.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the latest offer rejected by the Harden camp was a 4 year $52 million extension on his rookie deal. For context, Durant received the maximum 5 years and $86 million back in 2010, Westbrook got 5 years $80 million (also the max for him), and this offseason Serge Ibaka sealed a 4 year $48 million extension. Given this information, it does seem reasonable for Harden to hold out for what he believes he is worth. He’s already agreed to forgo an opportunity to start (he would be a starter on all but perhaps 5 other teams in the league right now) for the good of the team, now they wanthim to be the guy to leave money on the table as well?
And he would definitely be leaving money on the table. Eric Gordon, an inferior player and a guy who hasn’t proven he can stay healthy, just signed a max contract this offseason. Meanwhile, both the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are reportedly ready to offer Harden the maximum should the Thunder allow him to hit free agency. And while the Thunder have been trying to sell Harden on the opportunity to be on a perennial championship contender, oftentimes in the league a player’s contract is seen to be a kind of validation or sign of respect (as Steve Nash explained earlier this year). After already having sacrificed playing time for the good of the team, Harden may feel that he is unfairly being singled out as the guy having to make all the sacrifices for the team (i.e. “pulling a Ray Allen”).
The Thunder are hesitant to commit to three maximum-salary players on top of the hefty salaries that big men Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka make and have insisted that they would not match a max-offer sheet for the restricted free agent. Instead, league insiders believe that GM Sam Presti will cut bait and get what he can in return (likely in the form of cheap young players and draft picks) in a trade before Harden can hit the open market. Whether this is a bluff by the small-market club remains to be seen, but if they can’t stake out a happy compromise soon, they’ll have a very tough decision on their hands this season.