The story is out there about the Wizards reportedly turning down a deal for James Harden. Seeing as Washington plays the elephant in the room tonight at Houston (8:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet), we might as well touch on it even if the team isn't going there at this point.
The Washington Post reported the Wizards turned down a trade this summer from Oklahoma City that would have brought the Olympian Harden to town in exchange for rookie Bradley Beal and second-year forward Chris Singleton. The Post's beat writer Michael Lee knows his stuff and clearly has good connections around the league, so at a basic level there is no reason to dismiss the reporting. With that said, let's look at this from a few angles:
*For one, the basic idea of a deal involving Harden and at least Beal isn't new. Here's what I wrote back on Draft Day while trying to sort all of the day's rumors:
"The super-sleeper, blow your mind scenario: Ironically, this idea comes from Beal himself and it's one that would send him not to D.C. but OKC. The savvy freshman said in an [recent] interview that the Thunder are interested in moving up for him. That would mean a move into the No. 2 or 3 position - and that would likely mean Oklahoma City shipping James Harden. There has been some general chatter over time with colleagues and others about the idea of the Wizards dangling the high-lottery pick to the Thunder seeing as Harden's future contract situation could be problematic for a team already paying out major coin to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Odds of such a major move are low and it would also likely cost the Wizards 1-2 of their own young bucks."
*Now let's look at the timing. The rumored offer reportedly came over the summer, two months after the Wizards made Beal the third overall pick in the 2012 draft. Harden's trade from the Thunder to the Rockets came about in October - after Oklahoma City tried signing one of its core players to a lengthy and financially weighty extension (though supposedly not a maximum offer). How then do we reconcile a supposed summer offer when the team waited some time before making a move? According to the blog site DailyThunder.com, "the Thunder really never decided on moving Harden until negotiations collapsed the week he was dealt."
Therefore, maybe contacting the Wizards was simply Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti's way of gauging interest around the league. Maybe the person who is widely heralded for drafting Harden and Russell Westbrook fell in love with Beal and wanted the 19-year-old perimeter threat should a deal eventually take place. There was even a report in October specifically mentioning a trade between the teams.
*Then there is the haul itself. Let's remember what Oklahoma City received from Houston for Harden. From Yahoo! Sports:
"Instead, months later, Presti turned to the Houston Rockets in dealing Harden. He secured what could be a 2013 lottery pick from the Toronto Raptors (unless they lose enough to earn a pick in the top three in this spring's draft lottery), a young guard in Jeremy Lamb that they're afforded the chance to take their time with and develop in the D-League, and an efficient scorer in Kevin Martin that has helped the Thunder take the top spot in offensive efficiency this year. That's right — the Thunder traded a player that might be the most effective pick and roll player of his generation, and actually improved this year offensively."
Beal and Singleton are worthy prospects, players to build around and with - and players the Wizards could ship elsewhere for someone with Harden's crafty talents (and All-Star beard). However, depending on how high one thinks Beal's ceiling is, seems like the Thunder received a rather nice haul for the present and future.
*Lee also reported the following: "A person with knowledge of Oklahoma City’s interest in Beal said the Wizards’ decision to hold on to Beal made sense because teams are often willing to trade draft picks but are more inclined to keep players once they’ve been selected."
From a basic human nature standpoint, this makes total sense. By late summer, the Wizards already had spent countless hours bonding with their prized rookie including time at the Las Vegas Summer League. We all understand this is a business and in theory emotions are left at the door, but Beal was and still is considered a formidable prospect so dealing him under that scenario is not as easy as folks might assume. By the way, haven't even mentioned Singleton, who started 51 games last season and has been a hustling presence this season.
*Trading for Harden isn't simply about trading for the talent, but also the contract. If the Wizards' didn't agree to an extension with Harden, then shipping Beal/Singleton for a one-year rental would harkens us back to the Mike Miller/Randy Foye for the No. 5 overall pick trade. Nobody wants to go there. If the Wizards sign Harden to a five-year, $80 million dollar, then, as Lee notes, the team likely faces a luxury tax penalty and other salary cap quandaries going forward - all for a roster that would be no lock for a deep postseason run let alone even making the playoffs.
There are other points to make like how paying Harden max money might derail the possibility of keeping John Wall for the long haul or how at the time of the rumored offer the Wizards expected Wall to play, not miss the first 18 games of the season and counting. Anyway, this is certainly an intriguing topic and considering the Wizards current and recent record, one that understandably fans will dissect and perhaps ponder what could have been. Just not sure it's as cut and dry as some might believe.