Rising salaries, as well as a more punitive tax system, would have forced the Thunder to blow up the core before the start of the 2014-15 season. And with the entire league aware of this, the Thunder likely would have found it difficult to get equal value on tradable assets.
As it stands, the Thunder has a stable of young talent and other assets that should complement Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka well into the prime years of their careers, giving OKC a chance to remain in the title hunt.
So while some might say the Thunder should have tried to make it work, the reality is things have worked just fine.
The Thunder won 60 games, earned its third consecutive division title, posted the league's highest margin of victory and produced the highest ranked offense and defense in the OKC era last season, all without Harden.
If you still don't believe OKC made the best of a bad situation, ask yourself this question.
How much better do you feel about the Thunder's future today than you did a year ago?
A look at the other assets obtained in the Harden trade
Beyond the two rotation players OKC currently has in uniform — Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams — the Thunder received other assets in the James Harden trade.
Here's a closer look at some of the fringe benefits:
1. First-round pick — The Thunder owns Dallas' first-round pick, but it comes with a caveat. The pick is top-20 protected through the 2017 Draft, meaning the Thunder will only get it if the Mavericks select between 21-30. If still available in 2018, it becomes unprotected. But at this point, the pick serves as an intriguing trade chip more than anything else.
2. Alex Abrines — Using a second-round pick gathered in the trade, the Thunder draft and stashed Spanish guard Alex Abrines. He's not expected to come over for some time, but the 20-year-old sharpshooter who plays for FC Barcelona, maybe the best international basketball team, has a high ceiling.
3. Needed opportunity — With James Harden gone and Kevin Martin following him out the door a year later, backcourt minutes opened up in the OKC rotation. Enter Reggie Jackson. The Thunder's talented third-year point guard has shown enough flashes in limited opportunities that OKC's front office felt an expanded role was warranted, believing he has the chance to be something special.
4. Trade exception — Kevin Martin's offseason departure to Minnesota didn't leave the Thunder empty-handed. In a complicated sign-and-trade maneuver with the Wolves, OKC received a $7 million trade exception, allowing the Thunder to manipulate the financial limitations in a trade within the next year and potentially add a chip. This was a direct result of getting Martin in the Harden deal.