There has been a lot of subtle information surrounding the James Harden trade to come out over the past week, mostly due to the nature of the hastiness of it all. Oklahoma City wanted Harden to sign at their price, he wanted a little bit more, they didn't want to go deep into the luxury tax so they gave him an ultimatum. Harden didn't sign, Sam Presti didn't balk and Harden was shipped to Houston.
That was, at least, what James Harden told Yahoo! on Tuesday, that the decision was quick, brash and left him with just a short period of time to mull things over.
As Harden said, "After everything we established—everything we had done—you give me an hour?" referring to the short turnaround that Presti evidently took in relation to extending or trading him.
That doesn't sound like it makes much sense though, does it? Sam Presti has always been a calculated general manager, taking very deliberate steps to both keep his players happy and keep other teams happy. Never does a trade rumor leak out of Oklahoma City, which is why we were so blindsided by the trade.
Presti has always been a man to weigh all factors, that's why he drafts so well, it's how he's able to put together a team, it's how he was nearly able to sign all four of Oklahoma City's core guys when it was deemed "impossible."
A short negotiation period with Harden followed by a knee-jerk trade doesn't sound like Presti at all, and it turns out the story is much deeper than it seems on the surface.
Probing around we see that Presti was actually in ongoing talks with Harden and Serge Ibaka simultaneously for a while before the October 31st extension deadline. They weren't talking for a week or two, or even just a month. Presti and Harden had talks dating back all the way to July.
It's possible at this time Harden didn't know the $54 million ceiling that Presti was aiming for on a Harden deal, but by the time Ibaka signed with the Thunder, there was at least an inkling of what was going on.
Presti wasn't going to dole out a maximum extension, that much seemed evident. Then, when Ibaka signed on for a four-year $48 million deal in the middle of August there was at least a guideline in place.
At that point, the writing seems to be more or less on the wall of what Harden's deal is going to be. His open market value would obviously be higher than Ibaka's, so he's going to end up getting paid more than he did, but Presti isn't going to dish out the maximum four-year, $60 million. More likely it would end up somewhere in between.
Lo and behold, the last line for Presti was $54 million over four years, or right smack-dab in the middle of those two numbers.
It's possible that the timing seemed extreme for Harden, but if his agent didn't prepare him for the possibility of a trade before the Halloween deadline, that's completely on him. It was a real possibility that Harden would get traded so Oklahoma City could move on and steady their seas during the season.
Instead it seems that Harden was shocked by the ultimatum, but after four months of negotiations there's every chance of that coming up.
There's no real reason to pile blame on one side or the other here, and as John Rhode says, Presti may have actually helped Harden. With physicals and contract finalizations the trade to Houston couldn't have waited much longer if Harden wanted to sign for the full five-year $80 million deal before the October 31st deadline.
Aside from the slight difference in opinion of how things actually went down, both sides have actually handled the situation with dignity and respect, and that includes Oklahoma City's fans as well, which has been impressive.
Hell, as a basketball fan in general it seems only necessary to thank Presti for giving us this Jeremy Lin-James Harden connection while keeping his own team viable. It's been a hell of a lot of fun.