Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Analyzing the James Harden trade

by Berry Tramel Published: October 29, 2012

I’ve used Jon Hamm in my blog before. He’s a network and systems administrator for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation whose hobby is the NBA. Hamm follows the Thunder and contributes to Larry Coon’s website, which tries to decipher all the intricacies of the NBA labor agreement. Anyway, Hamm emailed over the weekend to offer his thoughts on the James Harden trade. He supplies insight from both the basketball and the financial side, so his views always are interesting.

Here’s what Hamm wrote: “Needless to say, as a result of last night’s trade, there are some stunned Thunder fans. There are a few things that I feel are important to understand about what led the Thunder to this decision:”

  1.  ”Some of my friends and co-workers spoke of how Durant, Westbrook and Perkins should have renegotiated their contracts. This can’t be done in the NBA. People hear of this happening in the NFL and assume it can be done in any professional league. I’ve had more soft cap/hard cap discussions over the past month than I can count. Maybe all three would have been willing to surrender cash to secure Harden’s long-term services, but the players union fought over the years to keep it’s players from being put in this exact situation.”
  2. “Using the amnesty clause of Perkins never made much sense. You and I touched upon this topic over the summer. For a team that was going to be challenged financially, the prospect of paying Perkins to play elsewhere never had much real traction, in my opinion. If you look at how teams have used the amnesty provision, it’s been strategic (a move to clear cap room for a subsequent move) or the equivalent of taking an old dog behind the shed and putting it out of its misery (see Arenas, Gilbert and Davis, Baron). Teams are not using the amnesty on productive players for the sole purpose of reducing luxury taxes.”  (However, I thought one scenario might have involved the Thunder trading Perkins in a deal that would bring back no salary in return.)
  3. “There’s some myth flying around that says a team must wait until the trade deadline or the last possible moment to make a big trade. The same myth says that by doing so, a team will get so much more in return. It’s a myth because smart basketball minds can make smart deals anytime because they understand the power of leverage. Denver managed the Melo-drama masterfully. The Magic (under Otis Smith) could not have handled the Dwight-mare any worse. The Thunder got a great haul in the Harden deal and struck while the leverage was in their favor. It reminds me of when Utah suddenly dealt Deron Williams and maximize the leverage they had at the time. Maybe the Thunder took a small step back for now (or maybe they didn’t, as Darnell has pointed out), but they are positioned wonderfully for the future (that time and place no fan wants to be in right now).”
  4. “The new luxury tax is about so much more than escalating fees. If a team becomes a taxpayer, they lose access to many salary cap exceptions. A tax paying team can find itself in a straight jacket very quickly. Tax payers can’t acquire a player via sign-and-trade, can’t use the full mid-level exception, can’t use the bi-annual exception. That’s tough.”
  5. “I don’t care how much money the Lakers bring in or how many titles the Heat could win, eventually those $90M+ payrolls will be torn down. The Nets might figure this out as well after a period of mediocrity. The Knicks may never figure it out. Point being, look for other teams to join the fiscal sanity club sooner rather than later.”
  6. “Last I checked, this team still has Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka locked up long-term. I think they’ll be fine.”
  7. “Having said all of that, Harden was my favorite Thunder player and it sucks that circumstances landed him somewhere other than OKC. But I trust Presti and company. They’ve got what I would call a solid track record.”
So there you go. Excellent analysis. I’m particularly interested in those $90 million payrolls. Will the Lakers, who don’t have corporate magnate owners, return to fiscal sanity? That will be fascinating as we watch the next few years.

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by Berry Tramel
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Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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