What if OKC Never Traded James Harden

When I tell my kids about the time Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were all on one team, I expect their response will be “This isn’t NBA2k, get out of here with that nonsense.”

And honestly would you blame them? The trio have combined for 3 MVP awards, and account for 7 of the last 9 scoring titles. Westbrook is the definition of a triple double. Harden is pound for pound the best scorer in the league. And Durant when healthy makes a case for best player on the planet.

The OKC Thunder drafted three absolute gems, but I don’t think they fully understood what they had. Coming off a finals loss to the Miami Heat in 2012, the young core seemed to be primed for many championship runs. Except they never got the chance.

That offseason the Thunder traded Harden to the Houston Rockets because they were unable to come to an extension with Harden. They offered him the most they could at the time, $55 million over 4 years, just $4 million short of a max deal. Unfortunately for the Thunder, they did not realize the salary cap was being raised s they could’ve kept both Harden and Serge Ibaka.

But what if Sam Presti found a way to keep Harden? Does OKC become the dynasty in the NBA? Will the Warriors ever ascend to championship level? Do Tim Duncan and the Spurs get that last championship run? What happens with Lebron James? Does he ever run the league, or does Durant sit on the throne?

Sam Presti Doesn’t Pull the Trigger

The return OKC got for Harden was weak in retrospective. The Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick. Martin was good for floor spacing, but Lamb never reached his potential in OKC and was quickly moved on from.

So let’s say Presti decides the value wasn’t enough for his 6th man of the year, and backs away form trade talks. Weeks go by and Harden decides to sign the extension. It actually makes sense when you take a look back at Harden’s press conferences after the Finals loss.

Harden was asked whether “money or team success was more important,” and this was his response:

“This is something special here. A dynasty is being built here. We’re winning, we’re having fun and we’re brothers. The other stuff, you can’t buy it.”

“I love it here,” he said when asked about impending contract negotiations in the offseason. “I’m just leaving it up to my agent and Sam (Presti). They’ll do a pretty good job of working it out. I’m focused on several other things right now. But when the time is (right), they’ll figure it out and it’ll be done.”

Presti and Harden come to an agreement on his contract extension and OKC is set. Durant, Westbrook and Harden are all locked in for the foreseeable future. Three of the best young talent in the NBA all ready to ascend at the same time.

Life is good in OKC.

2012-2013 NBA Season

The Thunder run through the regular season, destroying much of the Western Conference, all the way to the conference finals. They are matched with the veteran San Antonio Spurs and their experience shows. In a classic 7 games series, the Spurs outlast the young Thunder team. Durant, Westbrook and Harden go home earlier than expected, leaving them angry. They understand that they have to perform better as a team to defeat the Spurs and Heat. That summer the trio work on their game and comeback with a vengeance for the 2013-14 NBA season.

2013-14 NBA Season

Coming off the early exit in the previous season, OKC is focused. They dominate the regular season, blowing out everyone in their path to the finals. Durant is named league MVP, and Harden once again the 6th man of the year.

Westbrook has become less reckless with the ball, averaging close to 10 assists per game. The trio all average over 25 points per game, making history.

But as they know from the seasons prior, it all means nothing without the championship. They meet up with the Miami Heat in a rematch of the 2012 NBA Finals, but the outcome would be different this time around.

This time round the Thunder are more experienced and ready for the moment. Durant makes his claim for best player in the league by averaging 30 over the course of the series, out playing James. Harden is inserted into the starting lineup and thrives, redeeming himself for choking in the 2012 finals. Westbrook dominates Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, proving to be the difference in the series.

2014-15 NBA Season

Coming off their first championship season, the Thunder are on a high thought the regular season. James Harden is no longer a 6th man and is thriving in his starting role. Despite that, the Thunder do not finish with the best record in the Western Conference. There is a new team taking the league by storm and it is the Golden State Warriors.

The Splash Brother’s have arrived and quickly make a name for themselves. The Warriors take out the Clippers in the second round and matchup with the Thunder for an exciting conference finals. The Warriors put up a good fight but the cohesiveness and experience of the Thunder Big 3 is too much to overcome.

Durant is once again matched up against James in the finals, but this time Jame has some new allies in Cleveland. Despite James having a younger, new big three, the Thunder make quick work of the Cavs. Harden and Westbrook own the guard matchup and Ibaka shuts down Kevin Love. James can not do it all on his own, and the Thunder are back to back champions.

2015-16 NBA Season

The regular season goes much like the previous season went. The Warriors solidify that they were more than a good one year wonder and win a record 73 games. For the Thunder, the conversation surrounding the team all year is Durant’s upcoming free agency.

This creates some conflict among the trio, but nothing major to throw them off the course to the conference finals. In a rematch of the previous conference finals, the Warriors and Thunder link up for a classic 7 game series. However this time the Warriors come put on top. The Thunder still blow the 3-1 lead like they did in real life, and Game 6 Klay Thompson is still born. The Thunder will not get the opportunity to three peat as NBA champions, and head into the offseason with a huge question mark hanging over the franchise.

Summer of 16′: Durant’s Decision

Durant enters his first free agency frustrated. Westbrook and Harden’s isolation and selfish play style has become too much for Durant to overlook and wants a fresh start. With the Warriors unselfish play style fresh in his mind, he decides to join the 73 win Warriors. Still looked at the weakest move by an NBA player, and Durant doesn’t care.

Durant goes full heel and embraces the bad guy persona. Harden and Westbrook instantly become the baby face of the league and embark on a season of revenge.

2016-17 NBA Season

Despite the loss of Durant, the Thunder still finish the season with the 2nd seed, behind the Warriors. James Harden and Westbrook elevate themselves into MVP candidates with one common goal: Take down Durant.

The former best friends and current arch enemies meet in the conference finals but the Thunder are out matched. Curry, Klay, Durant and Iguodala are too much too over come and the Warriors advance to win the title.

2017-18 NBA Season

Much like the previous season, Durant and the Warriors are too much for OKC and the rest of the NBA to handle. Durant wins his 4th NBA title title, cementing his legacy as a top 10 NBA player of all time.

Westbrook and Harden are at a loss, trying to figure out how to overcome the dynasty forming in the Bay Area. Luckily for them, there is a superstar from the East who shares a common goal and happens to be a free agent.

Summer of 2018: Lebron James joins Harden and Westbrook in OKC to Take down Durant’s Warriors

After not winning a title since 2016, Lebron James is frustrated. His chance to be considered the GOAT is slipping out of his grasp as another player in his era has eclipsed his ring total. James makes a call to Harden and Westbrook that summer and decide to form their own big 3 to combat the Warriors.

The new big 3 in OKC becomes the ultimate face of the NBA and gets the backing of the NBA fanbase.

2018-19 NBA Season

For the first time in a few years the NBA season is interesting. The Warriors are no longer the guaranteed champion with the Thunder’s big 3 as a legit threat.

The two teams wreck the entire league in a race for the top seed out West. The Warriors deal with some injures so they load manage near the end of the season, allowing the Thunder to secure home court thought the playoffs, which proves vital.

LeBron, Harden and Westbrook finally get their victory over Durant and the Warriors. Durant once again flees a dynasty and heads to the star deprived Eastern Conference to team up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.


By not trading Harden, the Thunder become a short loved dynasty wining back to back tittles. Durant still pulls off the weakest move by a NBA superstar and joins the Warriors, creating that dynasty. Harden and Westbrook do not have the negative narrative attached to them that they are not winners.

Leave a Reply