More Perspectives on How the Thunder Got the Thunder Plan Wrong

The James Harden trade has led to quite a bit of discussion.  Within minutes of the trade being announced, Andres Alvarez had a story posted in this forum explaining “The Thunder’s Epic Failure.”

Beyond the writings of Dre, though, I wanted to highlight three more perspectives.

Matthew Yglesias – at – notes that the luxury tax argument associated with the Harden trade is misplaced. 

…my real critique is that the Thunder don’t seem to be considering the optionality involved in resigning Harden. Having the guy under contract for a multiyear deal doesn’t just carry with it the right to employ Harden’s basketball services; it carries the right to trade the right to employ him at any time. So if it did come to pass that the Thunder were a championship-caliber team and nonetheless running some kind of intolerable operating loss, they could always trade him then (or, better, they could trade Westbrook). The existence of the luxury tax can lead to a kind of overthinking and irrational sequencing about these things. When considering whether or not to sign a player for $X million, the question to focus on is whether he produces more than $X million worth of basketball services. If he does, then he’s a valuable trade asset at any time. And the luxury tax should be understood as being assessed on the entire team payroll rather than having the entire hit arbitrarily assigned to whomever happens to be the last player you signed. Editor’s Note (We of course, fully agree with this point.)

Patrick Minton – at The NBA Geek – notes that people shouldn’t accuse Harden of being “selfish” (a truly odd argument in a nation that employs capitalism).  And furthermore, we should think a bit harder about OKC’s claims of poverty. 

…my original point is….why, exactly can’t OKC afford to pay for Harden? Twitter is awash with type-first-think-second-if-they-think-at-all pundits who are quick to blame the CBA and how the harsh luxury taxes put small markets at a disadvantage, so clearly the OKC ownership is a victim of the system, here.

Except…does anyone remember the part where this team used to play in Seattle? I know geography is not a strong suit for us Americans, but surely there are a few people that might recall, if gently prodded, that a lot more people live in Seattle, and that, famously, lots of them are millionaires. in 2009, Clay Bennett took the Sonics and moved them to Oklahoma City (and paid a handsome sum to do so) because that’s his hometown. This franchise chose to be here.  

If a man wants to own an NBA team in his hometown, that is his right, of course. It’s cool if Mr. Bennett and his co-owners like watching the team in their hometown more than they like money. But it strikes me as odd that James Harden is being asked to pay for the moving expenses. It strikes me as exceedingly strange that a man who wants to be paid his market value (or well…at least as close as he can get with the max) is considered “selfish”, but that packing up the toys and moving them to Oklahoma City isn’t.

I also commented on this story at Freakonomics.  In the Oklahoma City Thunder Stumble While Following the Oklahoma City Thunder Plan, I take it as a given that the Thunder have a budget constraint.  And this constraint forced the team to make a choice.  Unfortunately for Thunder fans, the choice of Westbrook over Harden was not the best choice.

It also seems that the gambling market seems to agree. I asked Dre more about this and he noted the following:

A gambling site called Sportsbook allows people to bet on if a team will win more or less than a certain number of games as well as which teams will win each respective division.

A while back their odds were

  • OKC at 60.5 wins
  • HOU at 29 wins
  • and OKC as the favorite to win the Northwest

Less than 2 hours after Yahoo broke the story, they were no longer taking bets for if:

  • The Thunder would win less than 61 games
  • A team OTHER than the Thunder would win the Northwest division.

And the next day the option to bet on if the Rockets would win more than 29 games was also taken away. So, a real time market with people with vested interest in the outcome reacted very quickly and it was definitely not in favor of the Thunder winning the trade.

And I would add, that reaction is consistent with the notion that the Thunder didn’t get this right.


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