James Harden Proving OKC Thunder Made Wrong Move Letting Him Go

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2012

November 23, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) controls the ball during the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

James Harden represents the Oklahoma City Thunder's greatest mistake.

Allow me to clarify. The Harden who is currently donning Houston Rockets red and white, allowing Chandler Parsons to become an offensive powerhouse and reversing the fate of an entire franchise represents the Thunder's greatest folly.

Not because they drafted him, but because they let him go.

Trading Harden was anything but an easy decision for Oklahoma City. We were led to believe it was more of a financial necessity than anything else. But don't let the dollars and cents of it all fool you—Harden could still be a member of the Thunder.

By no means is this to suggest Oklahoma City, in all its small-market glory, should have paid the exorbitant luxury tax bill that was waiting for them on the other side of this year. It couldn't afford it, not with the roster the way it is. Case closed.

This is also not to suggest that re-signing Serge Ibaka was a mistake, because it wasn't. He was, and remains, a big part of what the Thunder are doing, and retaining him was almost as important as retaining Harden.


When Oklahoma City agreed to send Harden to Houston, it made a choice. A premature choice.

The Thunder could have—the Thunder should have—waited. They should have attempted to rid themselves of the cancerous contract of Kendrick Perkins. They should have explored all other avenues, took all the time they were allotted before shipping out a star like Harden.

They didn't wait, though. The going became tough, so we were led to believe Harden had to get going. But it didn't have to be this way. And now Oklahoma City is paying the price, not in the form of luxury tax, but in "what ifs."

What if Harden was still with the Thunder? What if he was having the type of season he is in Houston, in Oklahoma City? What if he was given the same opportunity with the Thunder that he is currently being given with the Rockets?

Yes, the Thunder managed to post an 11-4 record heading into Harden's return to Oklahoma City, but the team simply hasn't been the same without last season's greatest playmaker. To add insult to injury, Kevin Durant and company have been forced to watch from a distance as the player they let get away makes a prolific name for himself as Houston's cornerstone.

Harden has thrived as a member of the Rockets. He has finally been recognized as the kind of superstar he already was with the Thunder. His average of 25.1 points per game is currently fifth-best in the NBA, and his per-36 minute averages have never been higher.

After a less-than-efficient start to the season, Harden's field-goal percentage has also jumped to 44.2 percent, and he's getting to the line more than nine times per contest. 

Harden's stylings have also allowed the Rockets to post 102.4 points per game, third-most in the league, behind the Thunder themselves.

Sure, Houston is barely playing .500 basketball, but that's not the point. The point is Oklahoma City willingly relinquished someone with the ability to be a top-five scorer, someone who has single-handedly restored faith to what became a decimated franchise over the offseason.

What Harden is doing with the Rockets has been nothing short of inspirational, and while his captivating accolades have been great to monitor, we can't help but wonder how much better of a team the Thunder would be with him.

Of course, Kevin Martin has performed admirably for Oklahoma City. He's averaging 15.7 points per contest and shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond, but he's not the potently versatile star Harden has proven to be.

I understand Thunder's points per 100 possessions this season have risen to 109 with Martin, up from 107 last season with Harden. However, I also understand that Russell Westbrook has never played better and that both he and Durant are averaging more minutes per game than last season.

Again, I also understand Harden wasn't given the same opportunity in Oklahoma City he is being given in Houston—the same opportunity that he should have been given with the Thunder.

That 21.8 PER that Harden is currently posting could have been enhancing the Thunder's attack. His top-five scoring campaign—provided he received more playing time—could have strengthened the Thunder's offense.

What Harden is currently doing with the Rockets, he could have been doing with the Thunder.

But he's not, because Oklahoma City thought it wise to stifle both his role and salary. Not because it had to, but in favor of others.

So, no matter how well the Thunder continue to play, no matter how many games or championships they ultimately win, they'll always be left to wonder if they could have done more with Harden.

All it takes is one glance at what he's doing with the Rockets, however, to understand that they could, in fact, have done more with him. They could be doing more with him now.

But then again, the Thunder will never know.

Because they made the mistake of letting him go.



All stats accurate as of November 27th, 2012.