James Harden boarded an airplane Sunday morning, bound for Houston. He was “devastated,” said someone who knows the Bearded One. Harden and his family both.
Said Harden was stunned that the Thunder actually traded him to the Rockets. He didn't believe the Thunder would do it.
But Sam Presti told him. Presti's lips now are sealed, but sources from both parties said that the Thunder appealed one final time to Harden on Friday. Upped its offer to $53 million over four years but told Harden if he didn't take it, he would be traded to Houston.
Presti didn't use that as a warning. He used it as a plea. He desperately wanted to keep Harden, but this was the last best offer.
And the Thunder gave Harden an hour to accept.
It wasn't that Presti was trying to play hardball, necessarily. He was on the clock. That deal with the Rockets wouldn't last forever; Houston wanted Harden early enough to sign him to a contract extension by the Halloween deadline. Presti had decided that if Harden wouldn't sign an extension with OKC, a preseason deal offered the Thunder its best leverage.
Harden, through his agent, said he needed three days. Presti stood firm on one hour.
And 60 minutes later, Presti called the Rockets and consummated a rare NBA October blockbuster trade.
So Harden got on that plane Sunday morning, and maybe “devastated” wasn't the accurate description. Maybe he just had buyer's remorse. Maybe he played a bad game of poker.
But Harden sounded awfully melancholy Sunday in Houston.
“It happened so fast, it happened very fast,” Harden said, a point Presti might dispute, since talks started in July.
“But this is the position I'm in now,” Harden said. “Just have to make the best of it.”
I don't know if Harden's chief goal was to get the most money he could get out of the Thunder, or get the most money he could get anywhere. His former comrades, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, made it clear. They wanted a big chunk of change, but they wanted it in OKC, and any compromise would come on the former, not the latter.