Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have to be asking themselves, “Where would our team be now if we still had James Harden?”
Durant and Westbrook won’t say it publicly but privately they have to be frustrated at Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti for allowing their good friend to leave town. Presti orchestrated the 2012 deal that sent Harden — then the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year — to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a draft pick, which turned out to be center Steven Adams.
Adams is a nice, young player with great potential, but Harden is special.
Presti pulled the trigger on the Harden trade because Bennett refused to go over the salary cap and pay the luxury tax. From a financial standout point, it made sense. From a pure basketball standpoint, it was a disaster.
Image if the Thunder had kept Harden. They probably would have beaten the Spurs in the 2014 Western Conference finals, and it probably would have only taken them five or six games to do so. They could be off to their second trip to the NBA Finals for a rematch with the Miami Heat, which knocked them out in the 2012 Finals.
If Bennett wasn’t so frugal and Presti was created enough to pull off a Pat Riley-type move to keep three superstars, Oklahoma City could very well have a dynasty in place.
They would have the reigning MVP in Durant, the best shooting guard in Harden and the dynamic Westbrook. Those three right now are arguably three of the five best players in the world. And they’ve proven that they could co-exist on and off the court. They genuinely liked each other. Westbrook and Harden have the L.A. connection going, and Durant still calls Harden almost every week.
Add Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson and you have a super team — all under the age of 26.
The Spurs eliminated the Thunder on Saturday as Durant and Westbrook quite simply ran out of gas in Game 6. Durant played 52 minutes, Ibaka logged 49 minutes and Westbrook 44 minutes. They were dead tired in overtime.
It was a totally different outcome than the Spurs-Thunder series in 2012 in which the Thunder, after losing the first two games, blitzed the Spurs in four straight games to win the series.
What’s the difference? OKC had Harden.
Presti is lucky he works in a small market like Oklahoma City. If he were in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, fans, reporters, bloggers, radio disc jockeys and city officials would be calling for his resignation.
You think if Presti had to do it all over he would trade Harden? Publicly he won’t admit it was a monumental blunder. Privately, he wishes he found a way to keep Durant, Westbrook and Harden for another championship run.
The loss to the Spurs in the conference finals was yet another reminder how much the Thunder miss Harden.
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.