Sunday Dribbles: Harden bargain

You can’t blame James Harden.

All he wanted was more money, and don’t we all?

And I know if I had the chance to get a small raise and be a No. 3 option at work … or go somewhere else, become a No. 1 option and earn considerably more … well, I’m not so sure I’d “take one for the team.” I’d probably go for the gold and the glory.

So Harden did the natural thing. He turned down a contract offer (two, actually) from the Oklahoma City Thunder, thinking a bigger payday was eventually on the way. He was right.

But don’t you dare shake a finger at the Thunder, who traded Harden to Houston right before the start of the season. Seriously. Don’t you dare.

The Thunder’s move was what NBA fans have been waiting for. It’s what fans demanded for the NBA lockout to repair. Fans wanted teams to take back ownership of the league from the players. And the Thunder did it. Without hurting themselves even the slightest little bit.

Let’s take a look at Thunder GM Sam Presti’s guide to taking charge of your team:

• Harden was offered an extension.

• Harden turned it down.

• Harden was offered a larger figure.

• Harden turned it down.

• The Thunder said, sorry, but we don’t work that way. Have a great time earning your cash in Houston, putting up as many shots as you want, perhaps even earning multiple trips to the All-Star Game. But we still believe our team is better than yours, and we believe it will be for quite some time.

That, kids, is how to run a franchise.

Sure, Harden is going bananas with the Rockets. He’s made them matter. He’s been a blast to watch through three games. Based on those first three games, it’s safe to say we wish we could watch him every minute of every game.

But so what?

The Thunder absolutely, positively, without a doubt had to make this trade. Heck, I would have made it even if Harden’s contract situation wasn’t sticky.

Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and two first-round picks, including one that could end up in the lottery? Really?! Let’s do this!

Yeah, I’ve read the pathetic attempts of sportswriters on Twitter to make it sound like the Thunder are doomed. “Golly,” they write, “when you have a shot at a title, you’ve got to go all in, fellas. That window sure can close fast, and …”

Blah, blah, blah.

Apparently, these pundits never watched Cleveland during LeBron James’ contract year, or the Orlando mess involving Dwight Howard.

Granted, Harden isn’t on the level of those guys — but a major distraction is a major distraction. Harden’s contract situation would have been one, and it would’ve removed the Thunder from Finals contention. Period. (And that doesn’t even factor in his utter meltdown against Miami last season.)

So, here we are. Harden and the Rockets. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins, Martin, tons of assets, and the Thunder.

Who won?

Actually, I’d say it’s a tie. Harden and the Rockets got what they felt they needed, and so did the Thunder. All involved are in better situations today.

But the biggest winner here, people, is the NBA. If more folks operate like the Thunder, these season-long “Decision” threats and Dwightmares can come to an end.

Harden is a nice player. He’ll do well in Houston. But the Thunder will be better than the Rockets — and the Thunder will have multiple opportunities to get back to the Finals without Harden.

The team, in almost every case, is better than its No. 3 option.

DRIBBLES

• In case you’re wondering, the Cavaliers did not talk to the Thunder about Harden. In fact, according to multiple league sources, the Thunder traded Harden to the first team with which they had discussions.

• Well, what do you know? Orlando won its first game of the post Dwight Howard-era by drubbing Denver, 102-89. Glen Davis scored 29 points, J.J. Redick 21 and the unsung E’Twaun Moore 13.

• Meanwhile, anyone know how Howard’s new team is doing?

• Actually, I’m not backing off my preseason prediction that the Lakers will win it all. But I will be considerably more silent about it if things keep heading in this direction. Or if Mike Brown remains head coach.

• Magic Johnson suggested the Lakers should trade Pau Gasol to Atlanta for Josh Smith. Don’t count on it, says one league source. “That’s why Magic isn’t a GM,” the source said. “The Hawks would never do that.”

• How about Kemba Walker scoring 30 points in Charlotte’s first game? How about the Bobcats actually holding on to beat Indiana (90-89)? Do we have a dynasty here? Probably not, but at least the Bobcats don’t look scared anymore.

• Dear NBA officials: Just because someone falls, it doesn’t mean you have to call a foul. There are times when people crash to the floor, and it actually means nothing. You know it. I know it. The players and coaches know it. So why doesn’t the league explain it to the refs?

• Watch out for Bucks forward Larry Sanders. The man is all arms and legs and seems primed for a breakout season. The Bucks may have something special for years to come in Sanders and lottery pick John Henson, another athletic young big man.

• How much longer until the Sacramento Kings are gutted? Is coach Keith Smart even playing their best players? Is it a coincidence J.J. Hickson is faring well in Portland after feeling miserable with the Kings? Can this franchise move forward under current ownership? Sure doesn’t seem like it.

• Plenty more rumors and news will be coming to this spot in the upcoming weeks. For now, teams are still trying to figure out what they have to start the season. It’s really not until around Thanksgiving that they become ungrateful.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO