Sheridan: Harden Trade Will Haunt OKC For a Long Time

PrestiWords to live by: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Surely Sam Presti and Clay Bennett of the Oklahoma City Thunder have heard that expression, as both are smart, successful businessmen with good educational backgrounds, although they are a generation apart in age.

Presti is the wise child who built the Oklahoma City Thunder from scratch, taking over at age 30 on June 7, 2007, prior to the team’s final season in Seattle, renting a small apartment with his then-girlfriend near the team’s downtown training facility, then proceeding to dismantle the Sonics.

On draft night, Kevin Durant fell to him at No. 2 after the Portland Trail Blazers made the Greg Oden mistake. Then Ray Allen was shipped to Boston along with the draft rights to Glen Big Baby Davis for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and the draft rights to Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick, who would eventually be traded back to Boston for Kendrick Perkins.

In early July of 2007, he let Rashard Lewis walk when the Orlando Magic offered him one of the most ridiculous contracts in NBA history.

You have to tear it down before you rebuild it, and Presti was dynamic in his use of dynamite.

In 2008, as the team was relocating, Presti selected Russell Westbrook with the fourth overall pick (Michael Beasley was taken second by Miami; and O.J. Mayo went No. 3 to Miami) and Serge Ibaka with the 28th pick (which was acquired by Presti from Phoenix in one of the most lopsided trades in the history of sports, a salary dump deal in which Phoenix sent Thomas and two No. 1 draft picks to Seattle for a second-round-pick.)

In 2009, they drafted James Harden with the third overall pick. (Hasheem Thabeet went to Memphis with the second pick).

It took three years, but Presti built the foundation of a team that would grow together and peak together, reaching the 2012 NBA Finals with homecourt advantage, which they utilized last June with a Game 1 victory before a critical non-call in Game 2 helped LeBron James and the Miami Heat turn the tide.

And since that tide turned, it hasn’t turned back.

James Harden cropIn training camp this season, the Thunder told Harden they were willing to give him $56 million over four years — and not a penny more. Harden, knowing that No. 3 draft picks who pan out and win major awards should be rewarded with max money, said no. Days later, he was $26 million richer when the Houston Rockets acquired him for free-agent-to-be Kevin Martin, the rights to Toronto’s top-3 protected 2013 pick, plus assorted flotsam.

And now look where the Thunder are — back in Tornado Alley watching the rest of the playoffs on TV after losing four straight to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Presti made the Harden trade because he wanted to save money under the cap to be able to sign Serge Ibaka to a long-term deal this summer. If the Thunder had maxed out Harden, they’d lose Ibaka.

But the flaw in that strategic planning was that Presti didn’t have to make that move prior to the season. Yes, he would have been at risk of losing Harden for nothing in free agency — but he also would have had a season to consider whether keeping Ibaka happy was more important than keeping Harden happy. By making the decision prematurely, he artificially inflated Ibaka’s value (which was quite low on the value scale when the Thunder needed Ibaka to be more of a scorer in the playoffs after Westbrook’s injury) while also removing from the roster the one player who was capable of replacing Westbrook as the primary ballhandler, distributor and secondary offensive weapon.


It wasn’t broke, and Presti didn’t need to fix it.

And as I say in this episode of #Hoops from CineSport, it is a decision that will haunt Oklahoma City for a long, long time. Also, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Charles Gardner discuss the Hawks and Bucks coaching situations.



  1. MJ says

    Actually, Durant is not our best player…….Westbrook is. Everybody thinks KD is the greatest thing since sliced bread, other than Lebron of course. We just found out Russ runs the team, not KD, he’s just there to receive passes and shoot the ball. Without Russell in there, he was completely lost, and that’s not how a superstar is supposed to look. He couldn’t get it done out there. He may have scored some points, but he also made costly mistakes at crucial times. We found out that Russ is actually our vicious little batman, and Kevin is more like our soft little robin, and we found out in a big way. Losing Harden sucked, but he’s not worth an 80 million deal when you already have Westbrook and KD signed to max deals. Serge is an important piece because not many guys in the league can do what he does at a high level, the problem with him is that he hasn’t been coached, it’s all raw talent that hasn’t been sharpened. But let’s be honest about Prestis real problem…he can’t figure out the big man situation to save his life. He passed on getting Tyson Chandler, pure bonehead move. Then he traded away a great player in Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins, the worst basketball player in the history of the world. It’s like he’s retarded when it comes to evaluating big men. If he was smart and wanted to make up for those big time mistakes, he’d convince Bennett that it’s time to spend money and get Al Jefferson this summer. That would instantly solidify us as the best team in the west and give us a better chance against Miami. We can’t do it with a two man show, they need more help, and it’s gotta come from the middle. I don’t expect a single thing to be done though, because we’ve seen how Presti does things. When it’s all said and done, he’ll be considered an overrated GM by intelligent fans that actually know what it takes to win it all in today’s NBA. It’s right out there for the taking, but I doubt Presti has the guts to go out and get it.

  2. says

    Probably worst front office move in the NBA. This put OKC back at least 3-5 years. They had the big three combo needed to win a championship.When they traded Harden they killed the spirit and morale of the team. These guys are still kids 19 to 23 years of age they haven’t built up the callousness needed to guard against bottom line business deals like say someone 28 to 30 years of age. When making these kinds of decision owners must understand emotions still count at that young age. These guys grew together when OKC traded Harden they destroyed the franchises chances of becoming a true NBA championship contender and now who know for how long. Should have kept Harden period.

  3. Reggie says

    When a GM knows he can’t give a max contract to someone, the common NBA strategy is to trade him a year early if you can get something good for him. Its debateable if the Thunder got good value but they still would not have been able to sign Harden to a max contract after 1 more season unless they matched Houston’s likely offer which OKC would not have done. The only thing that went wrong for OKC is the bad luck that Westbrook got injured early in the playoffs.

  4. Adam says

    Presti’s mistake was giving Westbrook a max deal when he didn’t deserve it and he wouldn’t have received one from any other team. That way OKC could have kept everyone. Presti should have realized that after Durant, his next best player was not Westbrook, but Harden. Westbrook can be your third option, but once he’s your second option, you’re not as good. Despite the above, had Westrook not gotten injured, OKC would still be in the playoffs and in the Western Conference Finals


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