When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden on Saturday night, they revealed to everyone that they are a team far more concerned with the bottom line than the top of the heap.
Probably a bit ahead of schedule, the Thunder reached the NBA Finals last season. As we have said before, they were a questionable foul call away from opening a 2-0 lead on the mighty Miami Heat that would have cultivated the doubt and derision that has swirled around LeBron James for the last five years.
And even as the Heat were wiping the AmericanAirlines Arena floor with the Thunder in the clinching Game 5, the conventional wisdom was that Oklahoma City would be back very soon. Its window of championship opportunity was still wide open and would remain that way for several years.
Why wouldn’t it?
The Thunder had a true superstar in three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. They had another All-Star in Russell Westbrook, whose ceiling still seems limitless. They had the hypotenuse of the “Big Three” triangle – a mandatory component to compete for championships in today’s NBA – in Harden, who won the Sixth Man Award only because he was used as a reserve.
Assembling a three-headed monster to compete for a championship is not just a theory. It’s an axiom. Ask the Heat, who did it so ostentatiously they obscured the fact that other teams have been doing it for years.
Ask the Spurs, who have contended and won for a decade with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Ask the Celtics, who have done the same with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (and now Rajon Rondo). Or ask the Lakers, who have upped the ante to an “Fearsome Foursome” of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
All of them looked with some level of envy at the Thunder, whose “Big Three” were all under 25 years old entering this season. Oklahoma City didn’t have a championship window; it had a double patio door.
And owner Clay Bennett, GM Sam Presti and the rest of the braintrust decided to shutter it over a lousy $6 million over the next four years. What a bunch of cheapskates.
In their news release, Presti said the trade “will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team.” Huh? Our “organizational goal”? Does that mean the vision is to settle for good because the chance to be great is a little pricey?
And what the hell is a “sustainable team”? Were the Thunder on the verge of Chapter 11 bankruptcy? Do Bennett and his ownership partners have to eat pasta and tunafish if the team doesn’t turn a profit?