This day has been coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder since October 28, 2012 when they traded Harden. Sam Presti gets a lot of credit for putting the Thunder together but his decision to trade Harden made this day inevitable. I recently written about how the Serge Ibaka trade was the sequel to the James Harden trade but it looks even worse now. Kevin Durant has left the Thunder, so what happens to Russell Westbrook? History has shown how Presti handles when a player has a chance to leave, he responds by trading them before they can leave. Except of course for Durant’s free agency.
Just after the Thunder lost in the Finals to the Miami Heat big three, they had a big summer to ahead of them. The 2011-12 Thunder were stacked with a great young core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka. They looked poised to be a force for a long time. They had been built through the draft, slowly grew as a team, losing in the first round, then the second, than overcoming the San Antonio Spurs to reach their first and only finals as a tandem. These Thunder had the makings of a new super team forming.
Then the summer arrived, and with it came the “the disease of more”. This idea comes from Pat Riley in his book “Showtime”. The idea is individuals will put aside their personal goals to achieve team goals. Once they achieve those goals they will start to look for more; more shots, more minutes, more of the spotlight, and more money. Harden and the Thunder engaged in talks for a contract extension with a deadline of October 31st to make a deal, if not Harden would become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2013. When it was clear they were not going to be able to get deal done, a trade was made and the Thunder are feeling the effect to this day.
The Thunder had many great seasons after that trade but never was able to find a third option as dynamic as Harden. The truth is Presti panicked; both sides were six million dollars apart and even if they didn’t come to an agreement Harden would have been a restricted free agent which means the Thunder would have the right to match any offer he accepted. They traded Harden to Houston and took them out of contention for the finals. They haven’t been in the finals since then.
Presti traded Ibaka on draft night, to avoid having to try to resign him next summer. Now looking at the Thunder’s roster without Durant, Presti has to decide what to do with Westbrook. When Durant was out for the year, he nearly carried them into the playoffs was averaging nearly a triple-double. The safest and wisest move for the Thunder is to start shopping Westbrook now before he leaves the team next summer.
The other option is to attempt to sign Westbrook to an extension now and go after another free agent in the summer of 2017 to quickly rebound from losing Durant. The 2017 free agent class is deeper than this summer’s class with headliners like Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Gordon Hayward. No question this is a riskier move but playing it safe didn’t work in 2012.
Four years ago the Thunder lost in the finals, and this year they fell a game short of returning to the finals again. Presti’s ill-fated decision to trade Harden denied the Thunder of creating their own super team at the time and led to Durant leaving to join one.
- Is the Ibaka Trade a bad sequel?
- Bill Simmons piece on the Disease of More
- Adrian Wojnarowski Sources: Warriors Serious Threat to sign Kevin Durant
- James Harden traded to the Rockets
- Kevin Durant’s departure leaves the Thunder with 3 options by Tom Ziller