All true, but I still maintain there was absolutely no reason for the Thunder to trade Harden right before the season in 2012. They could have played out that season and then matched any offer (or done a sign and trade) in the summer of 2013. They could have moved him during the season and potentially received more value from a team rather then the more limited pickings in October. They also could have just signed Harden to the extension and then just moved on from him the following summer if they still wanted to trade him (or maybe they are champs and run it back or decide that Ibaka is the guy to move or something else entirely). Trading him at the end of October was just about the worst thing they could have done. They did ok drafting with Adams and Abrines (though McGary was a disaster), but they just let Martin walk that following summer and Lamb really didn't work out for them at all (moved him for Ridnour and a 2nd rounder).
In regards to not re-signing Harden, to be fair to Thunder ownership, the value of NBA teams hadn't hit the rapid increase in value that seams to be the new normal.
- Clay Bennett bought the team in 2006 for $350m
- Ownership had to pay $30m relocation fee to the NBA
- Ownership had to pay $75m to city of Seattle to break their lease
- In 2009, the first year in OKC, Forbes valued the team at $310m, so ownership is down $145m ($40m loss in value, $105m to relocate)
- In 2012, when Harden was traded, Forbes valued the team at $348m, so ownership still down $100m+
- It wasn't until 2013 when franchise values first started to really jump. Thunder now worth $475m
- And values jumped again in 2015 and 2018, when the Thunder were valued at $930m and $1.25b
That's a CAGR (annual growth rate) of 5.9% for 2003-2012 vs a CAGR of 23.8% from 2012 to 2018.
Also the salary cap was in a period of minimal growth, and even decline. From 2002 to 2013, the salary cap barely moved (when calculating in changes in purchasing power). And the salary cap had actually decreased from it's high in 2009 (when team first moved to OKC) when compared to 2010-2014 or 2015 (depending on whether you're looking at real or current dollars).
Just looking at some of the numbers, especially considering this was before the new TV deal was in place, I can see and also remember why small market owners had to really watch their pennies.
It looks terrible now, and I'm sure if Clay Bennett had a crystal ball he would have done things differently and paid Harden the max. But at the time there was some reason to be concerned about losing money.
Those are fair points to note. Conversely, though, the league anticipated increased franchise values and revenue as far back as the Harden trade. Cap rose more dramatically than anticipated and the Clippers sale price opened a lot of eyes, but they knew it was on the horizon.
Harden was traded on 10/27/12
The new TV deal was announced on 10/5/14 (and wouldn't go into effect until the '17 season, and there would be a new CBA in 2017 that their could have caused a lockout or strike).
While surely the owners knew something was in the pipeline, I doubt they knew 2 years out how much of a haul they'd be getting, and that it wouldn't cause problems at the negotiating table with the the players' union.
In fact, both Hornets/Pelicans and Grizzlies were sold just a few months before the Harden trade. The Hornets/Pelicans sold for $338m in April 2012, and the Grizzlies were sold for $350m in June 2012. Remember the Sonics/Thunder were bought for $350 six years earlier, so OKC is not seeing any evidence of an increase in value for small market teams.
Also remember the Hornets/Pelicans were originally unable to find a buyer, so the NBA had to actually buy the Hornets from George Shinn, and the NBA owned the team for 1 1/2 years before it could find a buyer.
All that to say, owners and potential buyers did not know values and revenue were about to skyrocket at the time of the Harden trade. If so owners wouldn't have sold during that period and/or buyers would be lining up to buy teams at higher prices.
I don't know really why I'm defending OKC here, but here goes:
An un-signed Harden would have less value as the season progressed.
You get peanuts in a sign-and-trade.
Having ongoing trade talks can torpedo locker room morale (IIRC, that was one of the the reasons the trade happened so quickly, but can't find any sources with a quick google search now so I may be mis-remembering).
Harder to re-sign Harden then trade him due to matching salaries. OKC didn't want to pay Harden because they were worried they couldn't afford the payroll. How does trading Harden for similar salary really help the team here? They wanted young cheap talent and flexibility, not expensive vets. Harder to find that perfect mix of expiring contracts and rookie contracts/picks.
Hey I'm with you, I want my team (especially a small market one) to roll the dice and go for a championship, even if it means losing Harden for nothing. I'm just saying I can see valid reasons behind the Thunders' moves.
Also kind of think they were expecting Jeremy Lamb to turn into another Harden-like player (Thunder tried to get Beal first but Wizards turned them down, that would have worked). One in the hand beats 2 in the bush though. If Lamb had success like other Presti picks at the time (or they got Beal), maybe things would be different.