Future Is About Sense, Not Dollars

HANG TIME, Texas — Numbers are good. Numbers are practical. We need numbers to remind us how old we are, how much that bacon double-cheeseburger is going to show up in that next photo on Facebook, if we can afford one more $6 cup of bad coffee at the airport.

However, sometimes too many numbers just get in the way of the good things in life.

Take James Harden, for instance. Just don’t take him away from the Thunder.

The always thoughtful, always analytical Zach Lowe of SI.com makes a commendable case that as the NBA’s second-smallest market, it only makes sense that Oklahoma City consider the long-term balance sheet of the franchise when it comes to maybe trimming The Beard from the payroll:

It would be difficult for Oklahoma City to find a reasonable approximation of Harden’s versatile talents on the trade market, especially next season, when Harden will “only” make $5.8 million — a salary that makes it difficult to bring back a top talent under the league’s salary-matching rules.

But there’s an argument to be made that Harden’s skills overlap closely enough with those of Durant and Westbrook to make a trade for the right sort of package, even in the short-term. Step back, and you can see that package taking form: Some cheaper shooting, with perhaps a dash of ball-handling creativity, and multiple high draft picks. Forget the future for a second: Is it possible the Thunder might be able to maintain their current status as (at least) Western Conference co-favorites in 2012-13 if they got that kind of package?  What if Eric Maynor, forgotten after a season-ending knee injury, emerges by the trade deadline as the league’s best back-up point guard — a player with the combination of shooting and pick-and-roll creativity required to fill Harden’s role as the second-unit quarterback? And what if Perry Jones, the Thunder’s first-round draft pick, comes into his own as a second-unit force?

And what if Harden simply gets it in his head that, for all the fun he’s had with his young playmates in OKC, it is simply time to collect his deserved max contact payday and go off to be a big dog in a bigger city?

While so much of the focus has been on the Thunder’s side of the equation, the insightful Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman notes that, a few weekend snapshots from his All-White Yacht Party aside, the most fun Harden has experienced came from his bonds with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the gang.

“This is something special here,” he said a few days after that Finals loss. “A dynasty could be, is being built here. We’re winning, we’re having fun, and we’re brothers.

“The other stuff, you can’t buy.”

Harden can certainly justify maximizing his earning potential and making the most money that he can while he can. But he has to remember that fundamental reason that every athlete steps onto the court or the playing field in the first place — to compete and to win. And that is exactly what the core group of Thunder players has learned to do together over the past handful of seasons.

He could cash a bigger paycheck, indeed, over four years and spend the rest of his career trying to recapture that elusive chemistry, that spark, that sheer joy.

OKC’s management can understandably want to keep an eye on the bottom line because the team, after all, is a business. Yet the uniqueness of pro sports is that they are more than a business. They are ties that bind a community and can give it an identity that cannot be bought. So there times that require looking beyond the balance sheet to a moment in time of sheer excitement and possibility.

This is one of those times and OKC is that place right here, right now, for Harden and for the Thunder.

Save the numbers and the cold analytics for another day. Some things just make a lot more sense than dollars.


  1. J.O.L. says:

    Great article! I agree wholeheartedly, there are some things money can’t buy. If you can’t use $5.8 million wisely, you’ve got problems.

  2. Rocabye says:

    Harden will stay, I’m almost certain. He’s a lot like Manu Ginobli. Manu could have gone off and made big money anywhere, but he stayed with the Spurs. Some players care more about the W than about the $. Harden will want to spread his wings at some point I am sure, even Presti mentioned it. But as of right now, he’s got a good thing going and hes not gonna want to give it up. Now a few years from now? He’ll probably want to lead his own team after he’s had a championship or two under his belt. And I think Durant, Presti, Westbrook all understand that. For Harden its win first, then worry about the money.

  3. SYDALE says:

    Hopefully, my Sixers put that bid in at the end of this season… If Bynum actually plays consistently well, and re-signs… Then, we’ll have our 1st major pice locked in… Then, we snatch Harden away from the Thunder… and Jrue Holiday takes a reasonable deal… and we’ll be set to really contend with the best teams in the East…

  4. okc says:

    I agree ibakas defensive keep them competitive in many games even without much offensive. I think the piece that doesnt fit in OKC is kendrick Perkins, he is almost like an extra body on the floor with no defensive or offence. I think he should be traded for a cheaper average center to give harden more money.

  5. rizz says:

    Don’t say that all Ibaka does is block shots. You have no clue how big of an impact defense and in particular Ibaka’s defense has on the way OKC plays and is able to contend with other teams. Yeah he doesn’t have a big offensive contribution but they felt with so many people in the league that can penetrate you need a good and in this case great rim protector. He is also a great on/off ball defender and he can be counted on to getting stops for the team which is so important especially when a lot of teams just got bigger and OKC knows this which is why they offered him a legitimate contract because if they hadn’t he might have left and they are all of a sudden left with a wide open hole to the rim. Without Ibaka all of a sudden that 4 game comeback on the Spurs is impossible and OKC is lucky and I mean lucky to be a 2nd round contender for the 12-13 season. You don’t know how much of an impact great defense makes on a team. This is also why Howard will make such a big impact in L.A.. Not only that it has a tendency to trickle down to the other teammates to play good defense and it can be swarming. Fastbreaks are also started on the other end of the floor with stops. I don’t see Ibaka ever being an amazing scorer but I think he can be a solid 12-8-3 guy ppg-rpg-blks day in and day out which is huge for a team like OKC who isn’t know exactly for being big. I’m a Lakers fan for sure but it’s OKC that I believe will be a largest obstacle and keeping Ibaka was imperative to staying competitive which is why they offered him the contract they did and why they offered him the contract before Harden. If they can keep Harden as well then that’s really good for them and I can see them being consistent Western Finals contenders for a long time. In any case with so many teams being more competitive this season it’s going to make for a great season for all of us fans who are a fan of basketball.

  6. dattebayo says:

    Kobe will collect 27.8 and 30.4 million in the next couple seasons.
    Durant signed an extension in 2010 and receives 17 million per year from 2011-2015.
    Westbrook signed an extension for 5 years and 80 million, thats 16 million per year.
    Lebron James signed with the Heat for 5 years and 106 million, thats 21 million per year.
    Gilbert Arenas signed a contract with 6 years and 111 million.
    Joe Johnson signed a contract for 6 years worth 119 million.

    I agree with you that they all get too much money in general, but if Kobe gets 30 million at the age of 36, Durant and James should be worth 40 million at least 😀

  7. W/E says:

    and btw NO,these guys DO NOT deserve all that money,i mean COMON ibaka cant even score a LAY UP and he gets a max contract?!?for what cause he is blocking shots?!?!?omg…and westbrook is a very athletic but AVERAGE skillwise PG..Durant ok the guy is a good scorer but i still think they give em too much for what they really can do.

  8. Beardy says:

    I think James Harden, would be a perfect fit for Golden State Warriors. Curry, Harden, Wright, Lee, and Boguts = PLAYOFFS

  9. FettaFetta says:

    Thats all the NBA is about now, money. Its not about the love of the game anymore, you have to have your money or your not going to play for them. Fran Blinebury said that “if Harden simply gets it in his head that, for all the fun he’s had with his young playmates in OKC, it is simply time to collect his deserved max contact payday and go off to be a big dog in a bigger city?” Harden is playing for them cuz he loves to play the game and he doesnt care how much money he gets cuz hes with his brothers. Respect.

  10. Rocket33 says:

    Tough situation. If Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka had all left money on the table (say $1M a year) then they’d be in a better position with Harden. I’ve never seen a $1M before so I can’t honestly say I would do that, but I guess it comes down to how much they like playing and winning together.

    Personally I don’t think Harden deserves a max contract. He appeared to suffer from stage fright in the finals last year. I know he hit a big shot against the Spurs and in the world we live in, one shot makes you clutch. Until you miss the next one and you’re a choker. I think he’s a really good player and if they can lock him up for 4-5 years at about $10M a year then that’s good for them. He’ll certainly be better value than Kendrick Perkins at that money.

    The problem mentioned here is that you won’t get equal value back for him with the salary matching involved in a trade. You could take a risk on a rookie scale player, or if you paired him with Perkins then you might get something good back. Possibly a young big guy and a guy to score off the bench like Harden did. Maybe the Pistons with Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey to be the 6th man. Not saying that works for either team but its the kind of deal that I’d be looking for.

  11. str8chi says:

    I agree that he deserves max money. I hate to think that the pressure would be put on him to resign with OKC for less. I mean, why does he have to do it? Why didn’t Westbrook of KD see the writing on the wall when signing there contracts? They could’ve taken less money to ensure that Harder got paid as well? He shouldn’t have to sacrifice a lot of $$ for the sake of the team. I hope he’s not pressured to do so. They (Westbrook and KD) should restructure their contract if they feel about the team the same way Harden does. Just a thought….

  12. james harden should play nowhere else,

  13. I do certainly think that harden can be a reliable back up/starter in any team that he wishes to play to but he is more effective when he can get more open shots, just like in the heat wherein the trio would need double teams to be defended well. Ray Allen could use an excellent back up since he is becoming to be injury prone due to old age.

    PG: wade
    SG: allen/harden
    SF: lebron
    PF: lewis
    C: bosh

    miami heat 2013 champs!!!

    • QuestionMark says:

      Another stupid Heat fan, Miami isn’t getting Harden and won’t get Harden. the Heat would have to pay him what OKC is paying him or less, and if Harden leaves OKC then it will be for money or more playing time, if he wants to win might as well stay in OKC.

  14. basketball fan says:

    While I think Durant and Westbrook should make some sacrifices, buisness will always be buisness. Harden is getting treated unfair, becuase Durant and Westbrook are a dynamic duo, and there aren’t that many players who play the traditional big man like Ibaka. I’m not saying you should trade Harden, but in this era they could get someone with the potential to be better than Harden. Harden knows this but he wants to play with the Thunder because not only does he feel like OKC is like family, but becuase he can win.

  15. nba fan says:

    the player harden has turned into is not fair for him to get a small contract. he deserves a max contract not like durant or
    westbrook but you know what i mean

  16. dattebayo says:

    If Harden continues to play the way he did last season or even improves, he will be worth a max contract and he will get offers in Free Agency. If he chooses not to resign an extension in OKC he will get more money and he will finally be a starter which would be a win-win for him.
    OKC will miss him if they can’t convince him to resign. Especially in the 4th quarters he is a key to winning games. On the other hand it would force Westbrook and Durant to become even better players and have an impact on the other players development as well.

  17. W/E says:

    its not fair for harden

  18. RayRay20 says:

    I bet some idiot who has no idea about the salary cap will say Harden should go to the Heat. Or Lakers. Or Knicks.

  19. Giddi says:

    I could understand if Harden would take less money to keep the team as it was last year, but KD got a max contract, Westbrook got a max contract and Ibaka got a really good contract so that leaves him as the only one taking a cut? Doesn’t seem fair to me.

  20. Amitpal says:

    First off the thunder organization has done an unbelievable job getting all these players through draft. They had a little luck but they also did there homework. The guys they have r not only good but great character guys. I hope they all stay together and really become like a big 12 instead a big three. It’s not about three people it’s about the team.

  21. dirty_creek says:

    bring your talents to the south beach man..

    • celts33 says:

      why is it everyarticle has some HEAT fan saying come play here what does Lebron need an all star team to win why play the games at all let everybody go to South Beach and just forget the entire season

      • dattebayo says:

        So what you’re saying is the 80’s Celtics with Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Larry “Legend” Bird, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton – who are all enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame – won only because one of them was an allstar? Refresh my memory, did Pierce, Allen and Garnett win without each other or together with Perkins and Rondo? You’re telling me the Lakers didn’t ever have any stacked teams like with Magic, Worthy and Jabbar and with Kobe and Shaq or Kobe, Odom, Gasol and Bynum? Even Jordan had 2 HOF beside him on the floor during his 2nd threepeat.

        The Heat won in the playoffs without Chris Bosh and a Dwyane Wade with knee issues, they earned their title. And its not like the Heat just pay double of what other teams pay and as long as they keep within the guidelines of the salary rules of the NBA, they can sign whatever player they want.

        Oh and yeah, James Harden will not be a Heat player for at least 5 seasons…

    • lakers fan says:

      miami would give him less money than the thunder he either wants a huge contract like 15 million dollars an year or just stay with the thunder

  22. leggomymelo says:

    This is a great piece. It truly embodies what sports is supposed to be. Is it business? of course, but what the sport brings to a community is what really matters. James Harden deserves a max contract, but it would be amazing to see him stick around simply because he loves his team and doesn’t want to risk losing what they have built together.