Yahoo Sports has reported today that James Harden is disappointed that the team that drafted him and put his face on the map was unwilling to let him take a few more hours to evaluate what James describes as the most profound decision of his entire life. With just an hour to think through his options, James Harden (whose agent Rob Pelinka was surely assuring him of his max contract caliber) decided to decline the modest extension that Oklahoma City offered. Thunder general manager Sam Presti then did what any good executive working with the Thunder's particular set of circumstances would have done: he traded James Harden.
"After everything we established – everything we had done – you give me an hour?" Harden told Yahoo! Sports on Monday afternoon. "This was one of the biggest decisions of my life. I wanted to go home and pray about it. It hurt me. It hurt."
Asked if additional time might have caused him to accept a deal several million dollars short of the $60 million maximum contract Harden had long sought, he responded: "Who knows? Another day, who knows what another day would've done?
Harden was a pivotal piece on a dominant team that came a couple of good games away from winning a ring last summer. During his time in Oklahoma City, James Harden was exposed to some of the best teammates and fans that the NBA has to offer. I can't imagine a better habitat for a young player to begin his professional career in. Regardless of just how nurturing that environment might have been, Harden understands that being on a team like the Rockets gives him the opportunity to take his career to the next level.
Looking back a week later, Harden believes he likely had to leave his sixth-man role in Oklahoma City and become what Houston general manager Daryl Morey calls the Rockets' "foundational player" for the public to truly understand the depth of Harden's abilities.
"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," Harden said. "It's a different opportunity for me here."
Why did Sam Presti stonewall further negotiations with a player so obviously as talented as James Harden you ask? Presti is a GM known for his skill at evaluating talent prior to draft night and has to be proud of his 2009 third overall selection. Here's the angle from both Houston and Oklahoma City's front offices:
Thunder and Rockets executives give the same explanation for the timing of the trade four days prior to the Oct. 31 deadline for contract extensions: Houston needed a deal done on that Saturday, because Rockets officials felt that was the bare minimum to assure they could get their eventual five-year, $80 million deal with Harden into place.
Houston had been pressing hard to complete the trade on that Friday, but Thunder GM Sam Presti waited until Saturday to present his final offer with a 60-minute deadline to accept. Presti believed the Thunder would've lost leverage in potential trade packages if rivals weren't sure they could keep Harden off the restricted free-agent market next summer.
What do I think? Well, I'm glad you asked. I don't think James Harden is too steamed with his $80 million over five years and his opportunity to be the alpha dog. I'm sure that parting with Durant, Westbrook, Coach Brooks and company was not something he enjoyed doing but James Harden's career has been cleared for take off in a way that just couldn't have happened on Kevin Durant's team. Harden feels he was wronged when he was given so little time to make such a huge decision, but the Thunder needed to move quickly to make the best out of a bad situation. During a webcast today, Rockets reporter Jason Friedman mentioned that Adrian Wojnarowski had been in Houston for three straight days for the first time since... ever. I think Wojnarowski is bored with the professionalism with which the entire situation has unfolded and he is trying to tell a story that just doesn't carry much weight. I can also tell from the tone of the article that Harden is clearly not dwelling on what transpired between him and Oklahoma City's management and that he has his gaze tightly focused on his future in Clutch City. Sam Presti is one hell of a good general manager and I think he did what he could to avoid the kind of dramatic situation that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and countless other stars have inflicted on their previous teams.
What do you think Rockets fans? Red flag or non-issue?