Money isn't anything to James Harden—it's everything.
When he was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets just before the 2012-13 regular season, most assumed a combination of factors drove him to his decision. Earning potential was among them, but so was playing time, his role as Oklahoma City's sixth man and the shadows both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook cast over him.
Dollar signs were only part of it.
Or, you know, most of it.
In an interview with ESPN's Hannah Storm (h/t Royce Young of Daily Thunder), Harden discussed his departure from Oklahoma City at length and revealed that the Thunder's four-year, $55 million extension offer wasn't enough.
"I felt like I already made a sacrifice coming off the bench and doing whatever it takes to help the team, and they weren’t willing to help me," Harden said.
To reiterate the point, Harden was asked if he would still be with the Thunder if money wasn't an issue.
"Definitely," he said. "Definitely. No question."
To you, me and the people to your left and right, $55 million is a lot of money. Even by NBA standards, it's a lot of money. In Harden's case, it was record-setting money.
"The offer the Thunder made, while not the max, would’ve made him the highest paid sixth man in NBA history," Young explains.
Therein lies the problem, though: Harden would likely always be a sixth man in Oklahoma City. He was already compromising his potential by coming off the bench and—for the most part—playing fewer minutes.
There was little reason for him to diminish his contract value too, especially when Durant and Westbrook were earning so much more and the Rockets were willing to fork over key assets just to hand him a five-year, $80 million contract extension.
That $35 million difference is more than 63 percent of the entire extension Oklahoma City was offering. So, yeah, the money mattered. As does his role.
Look at what's happened since.
|Last Two Years in OKC||28.7||14.2||9.1||46.2||3.5||2.8||1.1||18.6||16.5|
|Last Two Years in Houston||38.2||25.7||16.8||44.6||4.8||6.0||1.7||23.2||25.6|
In Houston, Harden is The Guy. He doesn't play behind a Westbrook or Durant. He doesn't even take a backseat to Dwight Howard. The Rockets are his team and he's blossomed into a full-blown superstar thanks to the opportunity and contract they've given him.
Now look at where he's going.
Not even two years later, Harden has guided the Rockets to home-court advantage through the first round of the playoffs.
When they enter the postseason, they won't do so as an afterthought or fringe lottery team. They will be legitimate title contenders, headlined by a superstar who was suppressed in so many ways with his previous franchise.
Leaving Oklahoma City was necessary. It had to happen. As painful and unexpected as it was, there was no way for Harden to get both the money he was worth and role he deserved.
"Yeah, I did," Harden told Storm of his belief that he would never leave Oklahoma City. "I thought we were going to be together forever. Russell Westbrook. James Harden. Kevin Durant."
Plans changed. Harden changed.
Money inevitably mattered.
It always does.