Back in 2012 the great Bill Simmons wrote a great piece on Grantland that rips Oklahoma City management for breaking up a three-headed monster in James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The last line of Simmons’ article read: Oklahoma City will rue the day it traded James Harden.
Fast forward to 2015.
The Thunder are hanging by a thread in the Western Conference, while the Rockets are rolling near the top of the standings.
Oklahoma City stumbled out of the gates when Westbrook and Durant missed the first quarter of the season with injuries and has not been able to regain its footing. And even when Westbrook and Durant are in the lineup, the Thunder have struggled to string together any type of winning streak. On Jan. 28, OKC hit rock bottom when it fell to the lottery-bound New York Knicks.
When you lose to a team that is purposely trying to lose games, you know you’re in deep trouble.
In the words of the great Chick Hearn, the Thunder’s playoff hopes are in the refrigerator. The door is closed, the lights out, the eggs are cooling, the butter is getting hard and the Jell-O’s jiggling.
Despite deep playoff runs the last four years, including a couple of trips to the conference finals, the Thunder have not returned to the NBA Finals since 2012 when Harden was still running with Westbrook and Durant.
Oklahoma City has not been able to fill the “Harden role” for the past three seasons. They’ve tried Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson. None of them have measured up to No. 13.
That number has not been worn in OKC since Harden left, and when newly acquired Dion Waiters requested to wear No. 13 the Thunder oddly denied the request. Apparently, that wound hasn’t healed yet and having Waiters wear No. 13 would only bring up painful memories. It’d be like having your current girlfriend wear you ex-girlfriend’s ring.
Harden, the Thunder’s first-round pick in 2009, is enjoying the best season of his young NBA life. In his third season with the Rockets, the pride of Artesia High School is averaging career highs in points (27), assists (6.8), steals (1.9) and free throw percentage (89%). His 27 points per game leads the Association and from the way he’s stroking it this season he’s on his way to his first scoring title. And his defense has also picked up, something he was heavily criticized for last season.
If the season ended today, Harden, 25, would be the runway choice for MVP.
That’s gotta be killing Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City management. While OKC struggles to find the next James Harden, the real James Harden has become one of the best players in basketball.
If there is any doubt that Harden is the hardest one-on-one cover in the league, just ask his former teammates who got a taste of the man Steve Smith calls The Barber for the way he cuts up his opponents. Watch Harden put Waiters on skates: