Why Did James Harden Leave the OKC Thunder Led By The Duo of Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook

Published 02/28/2021, 12:47 AM EST
Jan 22, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) brings the ball up court during the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2009 NBA draft, when the OKC Thunder drafted James Harden, no one would have guessed that they were about to form a dream squad. With three electrifying talents like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant, the Thunder were on their way to becoming a dynasty.


Article continues below this ad

In three years, the Thunder had become one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA who could challenge for an NBA title. In 2012, they even reached the NBA finals but unfortunately lost out to the Miami Heat in four games.

It seemed like the sky was the limit for Thunder. They had two blazing scorers in Westbrook and Durant and had probably the best sixth man in James Harden.


Article continues below this ad

But before the start of the 2012-13 season, the Thunder pulled off an absolute shocker of a move. They traded their star sixth man of the year, Harden, to Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and Houston’s first- and second-round picks.

But why did the Thunder take this dramatic step? Turns out that having three stars in a single team comes at a huge cost. Going into the off-season, both Harden and Serge Ibaka had 16 months left in their contracts and were eligible for an extension.

They had already locked down both Durant and Westbrook to max contracts. Due to this, they were left with two options, sign either Ibaka or Harden, or pay a huge luxury tax.

The Thunder didn’t want to pay it. This had a lot to do with the new penalties launched in the NBA for exceeding luxury tax. Thunder instead had to could sign either Ibaka or Harden.

Oklahoma stuck with Ibaka and, as they say, the rest is history. Later, Harden revealed that Thunder tried to lowball him with a 4-year-contact worth $54 million.

The Beard‘ clarified that he was dissatisfied with the organization’s offer and was unwilling to take a pay cut. After the Rockets trade, Harden signed a massive 5-year-contract worth $80 million, significantly higher than the Thunder.

Repercussions of the James Harden trade

After the James Harden trade, the Thunder did remain competitive but suffered in the long run. Without Harden, they were missing an offensive spark from the bench, resulting in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook playing more minutes.

They did not make a single finals appearance since. The Harden trade was the beginning of the end for the Thunder dynasty. Eventually, Kevin Durant also left and 2018 was the nail in the coffin when Westbrook was traded to the Rockets.

As for Harden, he got a much bigger role in the Rockets. He went from being the sixth man to being a franchise player. Ever since his debut with the team, Harden’s offensive prowess came on full display.

Jan 16, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) high fives forward Kevin Durant (7) during a time out in the second quarter against the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Despite excelling on an individual basis, Harden couldn’t replicate the same for the Rockets. In the 7 years he was with the organization, he was paired up with superstars like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook.


Article continues below this ad

None of them worked for the Rockets, who never made an appearance in the NBA finals. With his prime slipping, ‘the Beard’ decided to leave the organization. He has now joined Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the Brooklyn Nets.

With a reduced offensive load, Harden has become the primary distributor of the ball. The Nets are an offensive juggernaut and are one of the favorites for the championship. The Beard might be on his way to finally win his first NBA title.


Article continues below this ad

Can this Nets super team win it all?


Aditya Mohapatra

710 articles

Aditya Mohapatra is a sports enthusiast who primarily covers the NBA for EssentiallySports. Having graduated in Mass Communication, he has prior experience in writing for ABP News, and has been writing for EssentiallySports since November 2020. This die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan feels that LeBron James is the best thing to have ever happened to the NBA, and will hold a healthy debate with anyone suggesting otherwise.