Thunder Front Office Should Be Commended for Harden Trade

David WeissCorrespondent IIIOctober 31, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 21:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat and James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder fight for a loose ball in the first half of Game Five of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 21, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Two schools of thought developed in the aftermath of the polarizing trade that sent James Harden to Houston

The premise of one side is that the Thunder dismantled a young core that made legitimate strides in the past four years, culminating in last year's appearance in the NBA Finals.

The premise of the other, meanwhile, is that the Thunder decided to deal with a matter that was only going to snowball with time by taking action while they were still in the power position.

So how do you settle the debate? With basic facts. 

Fact No. 1: James Harden was a bench player for the Thunder. 

Fact No. 2: If you're a small market team that plans to make a profit under the new CBA agreement, you have to be pro-active and financially prudent.

As Cleveland Cavs owner Dan Gilbert recently noted, "you cannot risk going into a summer and having [a free agent] leave in unrestricted free agency and get nothing back for it.”

This, according to Gilbert, was the "big lesson" he learned after LeBron James left his team with nothing.

But, really, shouldn't we have all learned this lesson by now?

Truth be told, should we actually be that concerned with asking ourselves if the most shocking development of this trade was that it happened? It seems strange how there has not been a comparison to the Dwight Howard saga—the latest symbol of what can happen to a small market team when the player is in control.

Frankly, I'm stupified!

But then again, maybe I shouldn't be because every point that has been used to criticize the Thunder for trading Harden has completely defied rationale.

For instance, when did it become a given that the Thunder were going to return to the NBA Finals? 

Last I checked, the Los Angeles Lakers tinkered with their lineup just a little bit over the summer. 

And if you want to talk about a team that has made strides, well, with all due respect to the Thunder, how can you really ignore the Clippers after they rose to make the Western Conference Semifinals from, pretty much, oblivion?

By the way, didn't they add a few nice pieces as well during the offseason? 

Speaking of pieces, when did the drop-off from James Harden to Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb become franchise-altering? 

After all, if James Harden was the same unanswerable force that, say, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook proved to be throughout the playoffs, wouldn't he have had a better series in the NBA Finals?

Look, let me stop myself for one second to add an important disclaimer that might become lost in all of this. I get that James Harden was an important piece for the Thunder.

When you can get away with coming off the bench and still be considered a part of a championship team's core, that can only mean that you're a heck of a player and a real "take one for the team" kind of guy.

All I'm saying is that, if Harden was really that indispensable, he wouldn't have been coming off the bench. 

And even then, the last few years and countless free agent spectacles have proven what a mistake it is for a small market team to resolve a player's contract issues later rather than sooner. 

Just ask the Orlando Magic, Stan Van Gundy or any of the other pieces of collateral damage we have seen wither away into oblivion if you don't believe me.  

Which is why, instead of criticizing the front office for dismantling their nucleus, maybe you should appreciate them for exhibiting the same kind of foresight they showed when they brought it together in the first place.