Harden, seeking an extension, declined the Thunder's offer of four years, $55.5 million (just $4.5 million less than a max offer), which therefore sparked the idea of trading him. They didn't want to risk seeing him walk away for nothing come next summer, and so they cast him off while they could land some pieces in return.
And they struck gold in the pieces they landed, and they end up being the winners of this deal.
First of all, Oklahoma City acquires sharpshooting wing Kevin Martin, a career 18.4 points per game scorer. He's not as potent all around as Harden, but he does figure to play a similar role as "spark plug" off the bench. In fact, he should already be considered a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Secondly, they landed rookie shooting guard Jeremy Lamb (selected 12th overall in June's draft), whose upside is through the roof. He led Houston's summer league team in scoring at 20 points per game. It is no stretch to state that Lamb has superstar-caliber potential.
And the good news for the Thunder doesn't end there. They somehow also netted two first round picks (as well as a second round pick) in this deal.
Quite frankly, this deal arguably increases the optimism of the Thunder's long-term outlook better than if they had re-signed Harden.
This is no knock on Harden. His talents are unquestionable. But landing a proven scorer in Martin, a promising rookie in Lamb and two first round picks is eye-popping.
It's especially eye-popping considering the spontaneity of this deal. Oklahoma City was hoping to lock up Harden long-term. This was the prime objective and it failed. But Plan B, this blockbuster deal, actually may end up garnering more results long-term than Plan A.
All of this isn't to say that the Rockets are the major losers of this deal. From their perspective, they possessed a slew of young players and so it made sense to pursue an already proven superstar in Harden.
What's more, it appears that Houston intends to sign Harden to a maximum extension, and so the Rockets have suddenly found a stud to pair next to Jeremy Lin and the rest of their young core for the future.
Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward were also sent with Harden from Oklahoma City to Houston.
But while the Rockets may have notched one of the league's premier scorers in Harden, the Thunder completed yet another savvy personnel move that should continue to contribute to their small-market success.
Consider their future. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are obvious. So is Serge Ibaka, for that matter. But now add rookies Lamb and Perry Jones, as well as two future first-round picks. Then throw in veterans like Martin and Kendrick Perkins and an emerging coach in Scott Brooks.
Prior to this trade, there were plenty of reasons to believe the Thunder's future was bright, but now the reasons are countless. This team is simply oozing with talent in the here and now and should continue this trend for many, many years.
Thunder fans will certainly have a hard time witnessing "The Bearded One" in another uniform, but Oklahoma City management made the right call on this. It would've been foolish for them to hang onto him and then see him walk away for nothing next summer. That was a realistic potential if they didn't pull the trigger on a trade.
Harden's presence will be missed in OKC and it will surely be enjoyed in Houston, but the Thunder found a way to come out winners in bidding farewell to Harden. They seemingly always find ways to come out as winners in building their franchise, and it should soon result in an NBA championship...
...likely numerous NBA championships.