How Sam Presti called his own number with the Harden trade
Sam Presti’s acumen as a businessman is no secret. It’s conveniently documented in this Bleacher Report post (ugh, sorry for sending you to Bleacher Report) which basically says that Presti is a genius for —among other things— turning Rashard Lewis into a trade exception into some draft picks into Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and a preternaturally successful basketball team in Oklahoma City, of all places. Oh, and candy and puppies and free healthcare for everybody!
Enter the James Harden trade. Much like when Presti moved Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins, this will wind up improving the Thunder in the long run at the cost of a much-beloved player. Bill Simmons’ three outcomes for “The Harden Dilemma” were probably exactly right but his later column “The Harden Disaster" fails to account for what I will tentatively call the "Presti is a Genius" factor, which is basically just the theory that the Thunder will have more success when Sam Presti has more freedom to do business (I realize this is very general, but it’s an interesting vague-ism and I think I’ll probably explore it further in the future), as history has proven.
Before I move forward, it’s important to note that in his first nine games with the Thunder, Kevin Martin has averaged scoring 16 points per game, or 1.5 points per game less than what James Harden scored in his first nine games for the Thunder in the 2012 season. He is an adequate replacement, one who —while not as effective at running the second-team offense— actually seems to play better with Westbrook and Durant on the floor than Harden did, thanks to his effective perimeter shooting.
The third scenario in Simmons’ “The Harden Dilemma” played out in real life, but the first two would’ve resulted in the following outcomes and effects on the “Presti is a Genius” factor:
1. Harden takes a smaller contract, like he said he would consider doing, and the Thunder don’t have to pay a luxury tax. Obviously this scenario would’ve been ideal, leaving Presti with just enough room to sign/trade for other pieces to complement his “Big Three” of Durant, Westbrook and Harden for the next few years. But this did not happen unfortunately.
2. Harden demands a max contract after 2012-13 season, which OKC signs him to, winding up in the luxury tax and having to pay max contracts on three star wing players. This is problematic for the PIAG factor because it would’ve taken up so much cap space as to force Presti to amnesthize Kendrick Perkins just to keep under the luxury tax. And the less money he has to work with, the less leverage he’s going to have when it comes to doing business. For Presti, signing Harden to a max contract and keeping him would’ve been like slipping on a pair of handcuffs.
At this time I disagree with anybody who thinks Sam Presti should be limited in the business he does as the GM of the Thunder, and signing Harden to a max would’ve done exactly that. Presti called his own number with this trade, and, much like Daily Thunder, I trust the guy.