Tales from a Presti Trade Past: James Harden


Bill Simmons took this picture of James Harden between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant when the Thunder lost the 2012 Finals. It’s become Simmons’ focal point for his repeated complaints about OKC trading away “The Beard.”

I’m shocked the picture isn’t his Twitter handle.

From a series of April 2015 tweets:

Jenni Carlson, take note. When writing a one-sentence paragraph about anything, add “Fact” at the end. It’s the newspaper equivalent to Jim Traber cutting off a caller.


Just like that.

It doesn’t matter Harden wanted his own team, or the CBA prevented OKC from offering a fifth year that guaranteed an extra $20 million (bumping his deal to $80 million), or the one huge logical flaw that keeping Harden in 2013 promises OKC a championship while the Miami Heat had LeBron James.

Why bring this up now, in January 2016? Because it’s going to get brought up again eventually **cough** Patrick **cough** (example 1 example 2, example 3).

As one of the new Thunder beat writers for TLO, let’s have a little fun and do a Monday Morning Quarterback version of the Harden trade.


Put yourself in a mindset like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol when the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present show up to give you an alternative reality.

Presti doesn’t trade, makes Harden a starter

It’s October 2012. Presti hears Harden’s intentions to become a starter, and ultimately a star, rather than play second fiddle behind Durant and Westbrook. Presti cancels all trade talks. He calls Harden to his office for a quick face-to-face meeting to inform him the news, where Presti’s solo album plays in the background.

Here’s how that conversation would have gone.

Harden: Sup.

Presti: We are going to fulfill your dreams of starting, James. Does this make you happy?

Harden: Cool.

Presti: I need a clear indication you are satisfied. Your acceptance will have huge implications on your future in this league, and ultimately with this team. Are you happy with this?

Harden: Yeah.

Harden leaves and whispers to himself “Man, I hope one day Taco Bell makes breakfast.”

Presti: Did you just say you want Taco Bell to make breakfast?

Harden: I uh … yeah.

Presti: OK, because that has some huge marketing potential.


Thunder make the Finals again and win a championship

Bill Simmons’ what-if scenario becomes reality. The 2013 Thunder squad with Harden wins it all. LeBron James cries on the bench, and we collectively cheer a Larry O’Brien trophy parade through the Bricktown creek. A series of unfortunate circumstances leads to Kendrick Perkins falling off a water taxi, screaming for his life until Harden tells him to stand up, where Perk realizes the water is only up to his knees. Harden not only brings a title to OKC, he saves a man’s life.

(Some of you might note Westbrook tore his meniscus that year in the first round. But this is a fantasy. Bill Simmons would argue nixing the Harden trade keeps the Rockets out of the playoffs and Patrick Beverley doesn’t target Westbrook’s knee.)

Harden signs a longterm deal with OKC

While watching Harden save Perk, Presti looks on thinking “I made a serious mistake” in reference to his contract. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden combine for three max deals with one semi-max deal (Serge Ibaka), putting them over the luxury tax. To make ends meet, they use the amnesty clause on Perk.

Harden stays in OKC and the team wins multiple championships


Bill Simmons’ wet dream came true. The ultimate irony is he can’t take any credit. Presti is labeled a genius, and then this…

Scott Brooks makes the Hall of Fame as a coach

Win and keep your job. Lose and walk. It’s consensus among Thunder fans Brooks kept his job in OKC longer than he deserved thanks to the Finals appearance. If the Thunder had gone on to win multiple titles, Brooks would probably have a Travis Ford contract today.



The trade is made


Patrick Beverley collides with Westbrook’s knee

This killed the Thunder’s title hopes in 2013. OKC earns the #1 seed yet title hopes end suddenly when The Beard’s henchman committed an unforgivable act.

Kevin Martin bolts after one year

He was about a clutch as Neil Anderson, but the guy could shoot and made OKC a better team. He signed a free agent deal with Minnesota for $6-million a year, which is only $1-million more a year than Kyle Singler.

Jeremy Lamb falls asleep on the bench

Jeremy Lamb bench

Lamb was virtually useless in OKC. Houston took him at #12 overall in 2012. His future was in Houston, not OKC, but that all changed when the Rockets landed Harden. Lamb’s lack of interest in playing prevented him from doing things such as make shots when needed, or connect on hand shakes.

This convinced Michael Jordan enough to give him $21 million to play in Charlotte.

Steven Adams replaces Kendrick Perkins

Houston made some trades prior to dealing for Harden, and the Thunder land the #12 pick in 2013: Steven Funaki Adams.

Dirk Nowitzki called him the “the white Kendrick Perkins.”


If walking down a dark alley at night, faced with either Adams or Perk, I take Perk. At least I can roll like a ball under Perk’s legs and slip through his hands. Adams could take an elbow to the face and not budge, like a Terminator.

Reggie Jackson gets the exact same contract as Harden

Westbrook’s knee injury woes carried over into the following year where Reggie starts 36 games and helps KD unleash his full potential for his MVP season. Reggie could have filled Harden’s role. He came to OKC before the trade as an underrated 24th pick. Instead, he saw what Harden could do and convinced Detroit to give him a 5-year/$80-million deal. In return, OKC got Kyle Singler.

(Enes Kanter also signs on a 4-year, $80-million, while dumping Perk. Just using paragraph breaks for dramatics)

Scott Brooks is fired/Billy Donovan steps in

The verdict is obviously not in yet with Donovan, but I predict he will prove to be light years beyond Brooks when he finishes his NBA coaching career. If the team kept Harden and had success, it’s doubtful this move is made any time soon.

Enter Cameron Payne

Maybe Mark Cuban was right? The 2014-2015 season goes down as the worst injury woes a team has faced since the 1976 merger, gifting the Thunder a lottery pick that becomes #14 overall Cameron Payne, who shows us his promise to play a sixth-man role.

If there are any betters reading this, you can put your money on Presti sitting in his office right now, eating Taco Bell breakfast and listening to this tribute song for Payne. Get out your lighters.

If only we could get the Ghost of Christmas Future to show us what happens from here.