Jun 21 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) is defended by Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the third quarter of game five in the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Does trading James Harden for Bradley Beal make sense for the Thunder?

Christopher Hanewickel-US PRESSWIRE

The Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t supposed to make a lot of noise at the NBA Draft this year. The franchise that has made some of the best draft decisions in recent history would have just one pick in the draft at No. 28.

The rumors started picking up yesterday with seemingly every team in the lottery shopping their picks around. The Thunder’s name came up.

Oklahoma City and their GM Sam Presti are reportedly very interested in Florida guard Bradley Beal who is projected to be a top three pick right now. The Thunder appeared so interested in the reports that they would even consider trading up for Beal.

Getting into position to select Beal would mean one thing for sure: trading James Harden to the Charlotte Bobcats for the No. 2 overall pick.

It sounds crazy to think that OKC would trade away their third best player after making it to the NBA Finals this past season but there is some logic behind the possible move.

The Thunder have a decision to make with Harden this offseason. He will be eligible for an extension beginning July 1 and the Thunder are going to have to pay him quite a bit to keep him.

Harden would likely be able to get close to a max-deal with another team if he doesn’t extend with OKC. If he stays with the Thunder he’d be taking a few million less each season.

Harden has talked about sacrifice with this team and his role with this team but it would still be a lot of money for him to leave on the table.

The other factor is that the Thunder would also like to try and keep Serge Ibaka who is also up for an extension this summer. Ibaka isn’t worth as much as Harden but if the Thunder do extend both, that would leave them very little salary room to build around a core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka.

The Thunder would also most likely enter the luxury tax in the next few seasons which is now a much harsher penalty with the new CBA. Oklahoma City is a small market without a TV deal right now so avoiding the luxury tax is a priority for this franchise.

If the Thunder dealt Harden for Beal, it would make life a little easier on those constructing the roster. Beal would have a rookie deal barely affecting the cap at all, Ibaka would be extended probably along with Eric Maynor this summer and the Thunder would have some more cap room to bring in talent to surround Durant and Westbrook.

Harden is a great player who will only improve over the next few seasons and Beal would be more of a risk, obviously since he hasn’t played in the NBA yet.

Presti and the Thunder organization are all about building a team with not only talented players but players who fit the Thunder model. Harden certainly embodies that but if Beal also does, Presti might be closer to pulling the trigger on a deal.

Beal has been compared to Ray Allen (unfairly) but plays closer to an Eric Gordon or less athletic Andre Iguodala. He competes on both ends of the floor and is a good pick-and-roll ball handler, although Harden is one of the best in the league at this.

OKC would be taking a baby step back if they went through with this trade. They wouldn’t have the same fire power coming off the bench and even more responsibility would lie with Durant and Westbrook.

Durant and Westbrook could probably handle the increased responsibility but maybe not by next season. Harden was so integral in OKC’s playoff run this past season and took over games at times even with Durant and Westbrook on the floor with him.

Trading Harden seems crazy but maybe it’s not so crazy. The Thunder more than likely will not make this move. They know they came so close to winning it all this year and they want this core to play out to whatever potential they may have.

Tags: Bradley Beal Charlotte Bobcats Eric Maynor Florida James Harden Kevin Durant NBA Draft Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook Sam Presti Serge Ibaka Trades

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