This is the NBA, guys. This isn’t Dorchester Capital or Chesapeake Energy. The ultimate success is not defined by stock splits or mergers or IPOs or record profits for shareholders. It is measured by one thing and one thing only – the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
If you’re a Thunder fan, you should be absolutely enraged right now. You were supposed to be chasing championships for the next five years. The utter dismantling of the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs in the postseason proved this group was the real deal. Last season’s Finals loss was supposed to be the beginning, not the end.
One lousy shot at the holy grail, and you’re done being a serious title contender? Really?
I didn’t realize the “Big Two” model was now in vogue.
You can argue that the Thunder got a lot for Harden. They got Kevin Martin, a proven scorer with an expiring contract – who hasn’t played a playoff game since 2006. They got Jeremy Lamb, a rookie shooting guard with plenty of promise – who won’t take his warmups off in May. They got an attractive package of picks that could make them a serious player in next year’s draft – where they will take a player they hope will be special.
None of those assets come close to replicating Harden, an unstoppable, complete offensive player who is nowhere near his ceiling. Start listing the shooting guards you would take ahead of him right now. Go ahead.
Kobe Bryant, sure. I’ll give you Dwyane Wade, too. Then what? Manu Ginobili? Joe Johnson?
Notice who’s not on that list? Martin, who hasn’t taken a truly meaningful shot in six years.
And if you’re one of those stat geeks who blindly worship Presti’s process of metrics over money, consider this: Do the Thunder get past the Grizzlies two years ago without Harden? Do they climb out of an 0-2 hole against the Spurs last year without Harden? Because in just the last two postseasons, Harden’s presence and production helped generate millions of dollars through five extra home playoff games.
It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to believe that maxing out Harden was not worth it. He is only going to get better, which would have made the Thunder better as aging teams such as the Lakers and Spurs got worse. One more trip to the Finals over the next four years – a distinct possibility – easily would have covered the $6 million gap.
And although nothing is guaranteed, the Thunder already were very close to a championship, which would have covered the luxury tax hit with all sorts of tangible revenue streams such as increases in ticket prices, broadcasting rights, sponsorship deals and merchandise sales.
Don’t forget the intangible revenue streams, such as brand recognition and the camaraderie capital it would have built with Durant, who is only their alpha dog and is good friends with Harden.
This was a bad decision. It was a bad decision by Bennett, who clearly uses his 1040 to determine W’s and L’s. It was a bad decision by Presti, who should have been smart enough to ignore the spreadsheets and go with his gut.
So when May rolls around, and the Thunder bow out in the conference semifinals to the Lakers or the Spurs or even the Clippers or the Grizzlies, their fans should keep things in perspective.
Yes, everybody loves a winner. But you have something more. You have a sustainable team.
TRIVIA: Who was the Lakers’ second-leading scorer in Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game? Answer below.