We’ve gone over the James Harden trade quite enough here at Thunderous Intentions and the national media has done the same as well.
We know why the Thunder felt they needed to do it. It made some sense at the very least and now they are living with the consequences of that decision.
I’d like to go back even further before the Harden trade to look at where the Thunder could have made a different decision to keep Harden.
I go back to when the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.
The Thunder traded Green for basically the same reason they decided to trade Harden. Back then (before the 2010-11 season), they couldn’t agree on an extension to keep Green. Sam Presti probably wanted to give Green about $8 million per year while Green would have likely been able to get much more the following summer as a restricted free agent, maybe even a crazy $60 million deal over four years.
So the Thunder held on to Green that season until the trade deadline before trading him to Boston. The Thunder quickly then signed Perkins to a four-year, $32 million extension, the amount they would likely have been willing to give Green.
We all know what happened next. The Thunder made it to the Western Conference Finals that season. Serge Ibaka was unleashed as a starter alongside Perkins with Green and Krstic out and Harden became a force off the bench as the team’s third scorer.
The next year, the Thunder got even better making it to the Finals with Harden becoming the Sixth Man of the Year and Ibaka finishing second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting.
Meanwhile, it was announced on Dec. 18, 2011 that Green would be undergoing heart surgery and missing the entire 2011-12 season. He had signed a one-year, $9 million deal with Boston a little over a week earlier.
After missing that season, Boston signed Green to a four-year, $36 million deal before last season. That was pretty high amount for Green at the time, and still looks like it will end up being a pretty bad deal.
So what if the Thunder didn’t trade Green? What would have happened in OKC?
To keep Green, the Thunder could have likely done just what Boston did. Maybe the Thunder wouldn’t have been able to go as far in the 2011 playoffs, but it’s not like they won the title that year anyway so not really a huge deal.
Let’s say the Thunder keep Green doing either by giving in and paying him a little more than they wanted to at first or by waiting until he became a restricted free agent and finding a way to keep him. You can’t say that the Thunder would have been able to keep Green for as little as Boston was able to, but let’s say they did to near the same amount (maybe a little larger deal that what OKC gave Perkins).
By keeping Green, Ibaka and Harden don’t break out as much as they did in the 2010-11 season. Now, with Green still missing the entire 2011-12 season, Ibaka and Harden would have seen the same chance to break out the next year, but probably not quite as much with less playoff experience under their belts and so on.
I believe that by keeping Green for that one season and delaying the breakouts of Ibaka and Harden, the Thunder could have probably kept Ibaka and Harden for just about what they eventually offered them before last season, maybe even less. Ibaka likely could have been kept for less than a four-year, $48 million deal and Harden may have not quite been good enough yet where four years and $55 million was just fine for him to stay in OKC.
Before the start of this past season, the Thunder would have easily been able to sign Green on for cheap. It wouldn’t have been the four-year, $36 million deal Boston gave him as OKC would have been looking at the future, still with the thought of keeping a core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka, which now would have been possible.
So imagine this past season if instead of Perkins and Kevin Martin, the Thunder had Green and Harden. Isn’t that the perfect team the Thunder could have had? When they traded for Perkins, it was to deal with LA and their size, which ultimately proved unnecessary. The small ball potential of a Westbrook-Harden-Durant-Green-Ibaka lineup would have been absolutely perfect for the Heat or Spurs.
There would have been other complications along the way of course and who knows, maybe Harden still develops into a star and Ibaka still demands a ton of money as well. The fact is that it would have ultimately been easier to keep Harden and Ibaka had they never traded Green. And we all know that the Thunder wouldn’t have been missing anything by not trading Perkins.
To go even a step further, had the Celtics kept their core intact, maybe they beat the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2011 with Perkins and win the title. Or maybe they are able to beat them in 2012. We all remember how that Boston team was able to dominate Miami down low with Kevin Garnett and Perkins.
There are so many “what if’s” from the Harden trade. I feel like going back to OKC parting ways with Green is really what got the ball rolling though, and if I could go back, that would be the first thing I change.