Believe It Or Not, OKC's Biggest Mistake Wasn't Trading James Harden

by John Flynn

The James Harden trade is a legendary NBA debacle. At the time, it looked terrible. Now, it looks even worse.

The final realization of the trade was James Harden and some roster scraps for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams.

This season, Kevin Martin is long gone, but he was a McDouble to Harden's Big Mac, anyway. Jeremy Lamb is an inconsistent role player who has not been able to make significant contributions.

Steven Adams has a sweet mustache, an infuriating style of play and a developing game that might make him a long-term solution at center.

On the other hand, James Harden is the poster child of the analytics community, feasting on three-pointers, free throws and layups in a strong case for MVP.

Thunder could really use a player like James Harden right about now...oh wait... — SportsNation (@SportsNation) January 16, 2015

In the three seasons since the trade, he has averaged more than 25 points per game, six assists and five rebounds. And, despite the frequent roastings of his milquetoast effort on the other end, the Rockets are 3rd in the league defensively.

James Harden is exactly the type of player we had hoped he would become, and then some. He's excessively good at basketball and OKC's GM Sam Presti dealt him away to duck paying the salary tax. It is a move that is everything wrong with professional basketball.

This is an NBA team, one of the most ridiculous things a human being can own and operate.

Why would you not spend all the money necessary to ensure you have the best team possible, especially when you can sell your franchise at any time for hundreds, if not thousands of millions of dollars?

Presti is lucky he drafted two other superstars and one All-Star; otherwise, it would be doubtful he'd still have a job.

The trade was, is and ever shall be a baffling decision, but that is not the biggest mistake the Thunder have made. Their true mistake is continuing to employ Scott Brooks.

If we compare OKC's big three of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka to Miami's former big three of Lebron, Wade and Bosh, the two are basically identical.

Durant and Lebron are a wash; maybe Lebron had an edge. Westbrook and Wade are a wash; maybe Westbrook at this stage in his career is a bit better.

Ibaka scores a few less points than Bosh, but plays better defense and grabs more rebounds.

The talent is there. The Thunder don't need another MVP candidate to win a title; what they need is a coach who can harness the talents of these players.

Scott Brooks' offensive strategy is "set Russell a high screen and hope for the best." Westbrook's aggressive athleticism and Durant's mutant skills have covered for Brooks' mistakes, but that's not what the best players on a team should do.

Good coaches create an offensive system that combines each player's individual strengths into a much more potent team power.

Brooks has been gifted two of the most offensively dominant players of this generation, and he's got them running isolation plays. It's a humongous waste; it's like giving kindergarteners top quality oil paints for an art project.

He is unqualified to handle the ungodly talent on his team.

In his years at the helm of OKC, the only changes he has made is switching from contacts to glasses. Seriously, HOW DOES THIS MAN STILL HAVE HIS JOB?

As we've seen in prior playoffs, the cogs of Brooks' simple offensive system will be clogged by a competent defense with a decent scouting report, and yet, another prime year of these transcendent players will be wasted.

If it failed in the past, there is no reason to expect this season to go differently, especially considering the Thunder will have a low seed in the toughest conference in recent sports memory.

Harden would be nice to take the offensive burden off Westbrook and Durant, but that just pushes the problem further from the source. The Bearded One would just be another weapon that Brooks has no idea how to properly fire.

OKC can blame the past, but the real problem is in their present.