OKLAHOMA CITY — The first big dose of small-market reality has hit the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Before the Thunder even played their first real game following a trip to the NBA finals, the franchise parted ways with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden in a trade with the Houston Rockets, fracturing the team's core and substantially changing the second unit.
We made several efforts to try to make this work, general manager Sam Presti said at a news conference Sunday.
I think there's a point in every negotiation where you start to realize where things are lining up, and at that point you have to play the hand that you're dealt. I feel like as an organization, we've made some tough decisions. This one was right up there with them.
Presti said the Thunder made what was supposed to be a final offer on Friday, then approached him one last time before pulling off the trade Saturday night — making sure that Harden realized he could be dealt if he didn't accept.
But Harden, who developed into one of the league's most dynamic shooting guards after being the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft, still wanted more.
Oklahoma City already had All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook plus NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka inked to long-term, eight-figure deals and — even with an arena upgraded by taxpayer funds that's sold out for every game — wasn't willing to offer him a maximum contract.
Presti said the Thunder made an extraordinary effort to keep Harden and side-stepped whether the team tried to low-ball him.
We understand what we were able to do, and what we did, and the significance and the importance it made, especially considering the commitments that it would have taken our payroll to, Presti said. Harden said Sunday he expects to sign a long-term deal with Houston before the regular season starts. He was saying the same thing about Oklahoma City when training camp began.
Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka all took marginally less than they could have demanded on the open market to stay in Oklahoma City but Presti suggested the term sacrifice gets thrown around maybe too loosely. He said the Thunder didn't begrudge Harden for rejecting their offers.