Will OKC Homecoming Tug At The Beard?


HOUSTON
–This wasn’t the plan.

The Beard and James Harden were supposed to keep growing in Oklahoma City.

Now he’s back, looking to trim the Thunder.

It was barely five months ago when Harden locked arms with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as the clock ticked down the last minute of their loss to Miami in The Finals.

That was supposed to be a sign of togetherness, a commitment to return this season to finish the job and embark on a new world order in the NBA.

For three years, they were the core of a team that was said to be different, more of a family bonding together amid a small-town atmosphere.

But even the best families often come apart and the question that remains is just how much was torn from the fabric in OKC when Harden was shockingly traded to Houston five days before the start of the 2012-13 season?

The Thunder are where everyone expected them to be, atop the Northwest Division with one of the best records in the league.

Yet nothing that matters won’t really happen until next June when the Thunder will have a yawning hole in the resume if they are not again playing for a championship.

Harden, of course, is in a totally different place in more ways than geography. The former hit man off the bench in OKC is now the Rockets’ top gun, having grabbed the headlines with explosions of 37 and 45 points in his first two games and is currently the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer (25.1 ppg) as he hangs in the marquee neighborhood with Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Durant and LeBron James.

It will be a homecoming of a different sort tonight (8 ET, NBA TV) when he takes the court for the first time ever in Loud City as an other and not one of those wrapped in the smothering arms of that deafening embrace. Some of his fans may welcome him when his name is introduced, but when he drills a long jumper and runs down the floor holding out three fingers on each hand or slips through the interior defense for a layup, Harden will be the enemy.

It will be a long and emotional day for Harden before he even takes the court. The Rockets flew immediately after Tuesday night’s win at home over Toronto to Minneapolis, where they’ll attend the funeral service of head coach Kevin McHale’s 23-year-old daughter Sasha. Then they’ll get back on their charter plane and fly to Oklahoma City with a scheduled arrival of 3:30 p.m.

Harden said he hasn’t given any thought to how he’ll feel at the 7 p.m tipoff.

“To be honest, I don’t even know,” he said. “It’s gonna be a long day. It will be good to see some faces, old teammates and coaches and my family.

“I’m on the road. I’m on the road trying to get a win. That’s no different than playing at Memphis or at Atlanta, whatever the case may be.

“It’s another game.”

The truth is it is just another one of 82 in the long regular season schedule, one night at the tail end of November that will have little to do with who raises the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the cusp of next summer.

“Won’t be nothing for me,” his old buddy Westbrook said. “Nothing happened to me.”

Except that it did, this deal that sent the league reeling in disbelief. While everyone seems to understand the financial reasons that OKC general manager Sam Presti pulled the trigger, putting the franchise on the road to a firmer long term future, it will be little consolation if Harden’s replacement Kevin Martin doesn’t help shoot the Thunder at least back to another Western Conference title and another crack at the top of the mountain.

That’s all Harden, Durant and Westbrook could think about as they stood on the sidelines that night in Miami, arm-in-arm in defeat, side-by-side secure in the belief that they would keep moving ahead together.

Did he consider for a moment that he would only return to OKC this season for just one game as an outsider?

“To be honest, I didn’t,” Harden said. “Especially coming off The Finals and basically being together (with Durant and Westbrook) all summer with the Olympics. It happened so fast, happened so fast … Everything happens for a reason and now I’m in a different situation.”

The Beard growing among different faces.

56 Comments

  1. thunderup says:

    Harden was my favorite, along with tons of people here in OKC, but the guy clearly does not understand negotiations. Yeah, he took more money, abandoned his friends, and any hope at multiple rings, but he did seem genuinely surprised at the trade. I blame his agent and Harden’s clear lack of business know-how. His agent gets a bigger cut with a bigger contract so he pushed Presti for “Harden’s benefit”, and Harden said multiple times he left all the business stuff to his agent. But when you push a guy like Presti, who didn’t build the Thunder by accident, you should expect hardball. The guy doesn’t bluff. What the hell do these guys do with 50 million anyway? Let alone 75… (Props to Tim Duncan on his contract and negotiation).

    Anyway, I just want to see Ibaka swat Harden’s layups into the stands all night.

  2. W/E says:

    I like the Rockets they have talented young players with so much potential, OKC are a much better team, championship contenters,Rockets most probably wont even make it to the playoffs.

  3. Champ says:

    Okc need a true PG.. and fast.. because this westbrook experiment has gone on long enough and im sad to say it isnt going to work! Its not westbrook’s fault guys, he was raised as a SG, trained as a SG and now he is expected to change what he has learnt for most of his life? You cant change who you are! But a true PG needs to be aquired ASAP if we are to have a shot at this years title.. becuase we arent going to get a lottery pick to get a young good PG so a trade is absolutley nessisary

  4. bu says:

    Nathan has good points, though I think OKC got someone who wants a fresh start & better fit in terms of mindset. Harden would hv been too demanding kind, & OKC can’t afford with the big luxury tax coming in. It also is asking a lot for Harden to sacrifice his salary to remain on team as he’s just starting to get on the rise (unlike LBJ, Bosh who are clearly proven & in the leagues for sometime)

    Other big consideration is, we all saw how ineffective Harden was in the final series. He’s a regular season scorer but poor defender, & not a very smart playoff offensive player (see the charge calls he had? also his team in a mess when he’s on the floor as the leader?)

    Not saying he doesn’t hv potential but a work in process. He’s now showcasing his full set of skills in Houston where that’s a full “rookie” team & he’s the closest thing to a veteran. It’ll be interesting to see how McHale will coach him & what type of sets he’ll create for everyone when he returns from the tragedy. (God bless, & condolences to him & his family)

  5. JAMES says:

    HARDEN WAS THE BEST PLAYER IN OKC NOT NAMED DURANT. GO ROCKETS!!

  6. a says:

    It hurts to say it I would love my second favorite player (first is neither kd nor r12 nor perkins nor ibaka, guess who) to still be on that team. But even though some of you have said otherwise their gm (who is brilliant) acted as any other would have accordingly when he had to decide between ibaka and harden which is: always keep the center you can ever replace the 2 guard even if he’s able to play the point period

  7. LOOOOL says:

    FEAR THE BEARD!

  8. Bryan says:

    Timmy is playing his best in the last 7 years. Kobe, Anthony, Griffin, Harden, Durant, James, Wade, Rose and any other overrated NBA player better hope he slows down soon cause he’s tearing up that court. Spurs play as a team, everyone else hogs the ball and makes it a one player army deal. Explains why other teams never win a ring.

  9. Lakers323 says:

    Everybody who is saying Harden is selfish for leaving is insane you would do the exact same thing if you were offered that much of an increase in pay to do the exact same job you had before with BETTER benefits nobody would turn that down, just because you have good friends at your job so does that mean they can’t be friends anymore last time I checked Lebron and Durrant are still good friends, but they’re enemies on the court. And who is saying Harden went to the enemy when has Houston ever played OKC in the playoffs……..NEVER

  10. Bryan says:

    Who’s with me SPURS YEAH. Thunder and MIami don’t even compare to the spurs. Why do they even play in the same league as the spurs? It should really only be Spurs, Lakers, Boston and New york. Maybe even Chicago. They are the best teams in NBA history. Look it up.

  11. Bryan says:

    spurs all the way. best in the west, best in the league. only team that stands a chance: knicks

  12. Jack Mehoffa says:

    The thunder need to get a real point guard and move Westbrook to the 2 guard position, having Harden covered up the fact that Westbrook isnt a true point guard because Harden took control of the point guard position the whole time he was in the game.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Man….. that beard is insane lol… James Harden for MVP (not only cuz of the beard)

  14. Who Cares, they will both get crushed by MIAMI. James will never be like King James anyway…

  15. chris zerofive says:

    okc choose ibaka over harden they have offer max deal on ibaka and let go of harden

  16. regie d beard says:

    go…go..go..rockets…!!

  17. Seriously? says:

    As a local thunder fan I can tell you that to all of us it seemed like Harden was putting on a nice face telling us all he would stay and take a pay cut, but in reality i doubt he would have even taken 60 mill over 4 years. We all remember when the Thunder offered him 52 mill, but most people didn’t hear about as well as there was very little coverage when the Thunder offered him 55 mill, which would be more than enough for any player “willing to take one for the team”. He wanted to be a star franchise player without pissing off all his loyal OKC fans and without making him look like the bad guy. Though he may have been a bit deceptive I still wouldn’t hold it against him, and it really was his time to shine and I love seeing him do well…. but my Oklahoma City Thunder is going to crush them, and unlike H town we will make the playoffs =/.

    Additionally to all of you saying the Thunder didn’t get anything, check the raptors standings right now, we have there draft pick =D.

  18. utoy says:

    the reason with that quote from Westbrook is he don’t want that Harden will outweigh him as a star in NBA..

  19. Whoknows says:

    It might be a little emotional. But game is game. Hey, he take home more money who wouldn’t want that ? Everybody will do it. Dont tell me it’s not the money thing ok??? It has some effect too. If I were durant and westbrook I feel a little different toward harden too.

  20. mark says:

    leave for a 5 million cut? when you can play with the greatest and possible win a championship….he was being selfish….

  21. ArunThomasVarughese says:

    Only confusing part was Westbrook’s quote… Ha. Did he mean “won’t mean nothing” as in, it will mean something? hmmm

  22. George says:

    Harden is as good an actor off the court as he is on it.

    Harden postured all summer saying all the right things about sacrifice and brotherhood and building something special and things that money can’t buy.

    Meanwhile he was demanding nothing less than a max contract and forced the Thunder to trade him.

    He’s admitted that he made a decision in forcing the trade. So why should it be emotional for him?

  23. ArunThomasVarughese says:

    Nicely put my friend, nicely put…

  24. Sloppy Joe says:

    OKC is still a team to be reckon with!

  25. big jebb says:

    hate that he was traded off but sam had to do what was best for okc.

  26. Whatman says:

    Thunder still have a chance, It a great deal. Being one of the best teams and having tons of first round picks is unheard of. Move Westbrook to the 2 and start Maynor. Less turnovers more ball movement.

    • chigchig says:

      thats what I been saying to people also,
      then you can have WB play PG with the 2nd unit and thabo and kmart off the bench as the 2 and the 3.. that seems like a good 2nd unit and WB can shoot without hesitiation and have people not hate on him.

      in crunch time you go back to the usual lineup, WB, Kmart, Durant, Serge, Perk or WB, Kmart, Thabo, Durant, Serge.. depending on if you want Small ball or big ball

  27. Darrell Darrellson says:

    I wanna see the Thunder take this win.

  28. G.I. says:

    @ LA

    It’s not fair to judge an athlete (basketball player, football player etc) for choosing the money. In fact, it’s all about future. It’s not like you are working in a company 30-40 years and then retire and receive a monthly pension. It’s nice to have such a family, to succeed as a pro, but it’s not all. It’s all about choices. Life is based on that thing. So, let’s say he chose the highest bidder, I think it’s an appropriate word to describe his situation, and not only his.

  29. JOSE says:

    its a busines thats all it is

  30. Nathan says:

    Harden did force the hand of the Thunder, but he didn’t think that Presti would actually pull the trigger and trade him, thats what Harden didn’t expect, and nobody expected, but he didn’t budge on asking for that salary. He is a better player in Houston i think, the ball is his, he gets it in those 1 point situations, he wouldn’t have in OKC. Hardens game will benefit from the trade, but OKC won’t. Will be an interesting game. will be good to watch.

  31. Jessie says:

    Its more than that, It was the oportunity to be a franchise player, that means more endorcement deals, more headlines, and the oportunity to live in a much bigger and better economical city. The rockets just need one more star player to be considered contenders for the Nba title, Deep young roster that will only get better.

  32. Kingk says:

    Wanna see harden get the win

  33. westbrookfunnyman says:

    “Won’t be nothing for me,” his old buddy Westbrook said. “Nothing happened to me.” watta douche. lol

  34. jshawaii22 says:

    It’s not the Thunder’s fault he was traded. Blame the players union demands and the Labor contract that was signed forcing the outrageous “luxury tax” situation. It was meant to ‘help’ the small market teams compete in a big market league, but it backfired. For the fans of OKC, Harden is a casualty of it. (Of course that big fat contract he just signed… I’m sure he’s over it and smiling the way to the bank) —

    js

  35. fan says:

    they should have traded ibaka and have a contract extension with harden

    • QuestionMark says:

      Smart. Trade away the best shot blocker in the league and sign your Sixth man. I would much rather keep the defensive player who locks down the paint rather a Sixth man scorer.

      • Random fan ful of opinions says:

        As much as I hate to say it Ibaka isn’t the best shot blocker in the league and at this point Harden is playing better basketball. I love them both but if I were to choose it would’ve been Ibaka that I shipped off. Call me crazy but I still feel like Perry Jones will be able to step up and take his place.

  36. otherguy says:

    look LA it is just like u said but the players and the coach didnt made the decision rather it was the GM of the team
    it’s very emotional coz the made a name for themselves and did things together even when they were newbies

  37. mirzahat says:

    Good decision to leave OKC, Harden has the space to showcase his talent

    tinyurl.com/bmrjjtu

  38. mirzahat says:

    Good decision by Harden to leave, he has much more space to showcase his talent

  39. LA says:

    emotional? seems to me the guy sold to the highest bidder… essentially a 5 mil difference over 4 years. doesn’t sound too emotional to me

  40. DHK says:

    It’s unfortunate that Harden needed to be traded. It’s a little unfair to suggest that Martin needs to shoot out the lights to gain acceptance. From what I understand, Hardin forced their hand. The trade may have disrupted chemistry, but so does a player with entitlement issues. His being traded has helped spark a team that needed a spark, while the Thunder are still winning despite the highly erratic play of Westbrook, the real problem. Hardin basically cleaned up the messes made by Westbrook. If they don’t make the finals it’s because of Westbrook not owning his play, not the lack of Hardin cleaning it up.

  41. amitpal says:

    U know many people trades happening becuz it makes drama and creates more excitement in how things will work out but sometimes it tears a family apart. I cant inagine being teamates wuth someone for three very good years. Reaching the finals and judt being part of something so big and then all of a sudden the fanily falls apart. U cab see that this had an affect on westbrook and durant at the start of the season. This tean was so different from all the other teams. This team truly was a family. Young guys who did everything together. And now having to face each other looking to beat them. This is going to be one emtional game.

  42. Danny says:

    Hope the rockets win.

    • merrileealong says:

      James Harden earns his keep. He’s professional; makes no excuses and maturely doesn’t have a negative word to say about another.

    • hardensblocked6times!!!!!!!!! says:

      Its safe to say harden got reminded tonight that he is a 6th man….not a starter. HA! Shave the beard….we made you and we can brake you. Worst shooting of his career! I’m so proud of my thunder.

  43. Jordan says:

    Not me. Harden should be with OKC on their way to a championship. Instead he’s the enemy all because he wanted to make a quick buck in Houston. Hard to support that.