OKLAHOMA CITY — After Oklahoma City was eliminated from last season’s NBA Finals, James Harden wanted to let the team’s fans know something. He said that the Thunder are building a dynasty and that he wanted to be part of it.
Five months later, that building plan no longer includes the reigning sixth man of the year.
While the majority of the state had its attention focused on college football and the matchup between Oklahoma and Notre Dame Saturday night, Thunder General Manager and Vice President Sam Presti traded Harden to Houston for Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick. It was a move that caught the Thunder fan base off guard, but one Presti said was made to ensure a strong future.
“The challenges of sustaining success are a lot more stringent that those of achieving success,” Presti said. “We’re not immune to that. What we will do is continue to operate as a team on the core principles and values that we’ve established since 2008 and make our decisions based on those, with the franchise first in mind. We’re confident in that process.”
Oklahoma City needed to sign Harden to an extension by midnight Wednesday or he would become a restricted free agent at the end of the summer. Presti knew his team would be in the same position Denver, Cleveland and Orlando were in with Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. A circus like atmosphere would surround a team that prides itself on no drama.
According to Presti, he made one last offer to Harden Friday. It’s reported to have been a 4-year deal worth between $52-$55 million. Once it was turned down, it was time to go in a different direction.
“We wanted to give it every opportunity and I feel like we did,” Presti said. “We were also very transparent throughout the process and when we had to make that decision we made yet another effort to stave that off and when that wasn’t possible we had to move forward and turn the page. It wasn’t easy to let any of the guys go. Because as I said before, once you’re a member of the Thunder, you’re in.”