|Did the Wizards try to get The Beard first? (US Presswire)|
The Washington Wizards turned down a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for James Harden this summer because team owner Ted Leonsis was unwilling to commit to what would have been a roughly $80 million, five-year contract for the high-scoring player, according to multiple people with knowledge of the proposed deal.
The Wizards would have sent rookie guard Bradley Beal and second-year forward Chris Singleton to the Thunder in return for Harden, winner of the NBA's sixth-man award with Oklahoma City last season, according to these individuals, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the proposal.
The Wizards entered action on Tuesday as owners of a 2-15 record, while Harden is looking like an All-Star in Houston, averaging about 25 points a game.
Prior to last June's draft, the Thunder were said to be interested in moving up for Beal, with a reported deal involving Harden. The Thunder interviewed Beal before the draft and scouted him extensively. There were never any serious discussions between the Thunder and Wizards for the third overall pick, though, sources told CBSSports.com.
The Thunder were committed to re-signing Harden following the team's five-game elimination in the NBA Finals. According to sources, Oklahoma City's first priority was to ink Harden to an extension. Rival executives around the league believed Harden could be up for grabs because of OKC's impending luxury tax issues, and there were some early talks during the summer about Harden's trade market value.
The decision to deal Harden wasn't made until after he turned down a four-year deal worth around $54 million. Following the deal with the Rockets, Thunder general manager Sam Presti laid out the events like this:
“The culmination of the decision to ultimately move in another direction — we got to a point where we were very transparent, very direct as we are with all of our negotiations with our players as to the fact we had reached a point where we needed to make a decision," Presti said in October.
"We made a final proposal on Friday morning that was unacceptable. We then came back prior to beginning to execute trade initiations with another proposal. We were very transparent with James that if this is not acceptable then we were going to have to move towards making the best decision for the franchise given the fact that it was becoming a reality that more than likely he'd be signing elsewhere at the end of the season,” he continued. “Once that reality was met, as we have in the past, this organization turned the page. We started to focus on what was in the best interest of the program and focus on capitalizing on an opportunity to help us both in the short term and also continue to strengthen the future of the Thunder organization and building this program in a sustainable fashion.”
According to Presti's account there, it certainly doesn't sound as if the Thunder were offering Harden prior to negotiations going sour in October. Obviously those "trade initiations" could've included the Wizards, but the report says those discussions happened during the summer.
Once the Thunder made their decision to move Harden, they didn't canvas the league, though. There were a few other reported discussions, including Phoenix. They had a very direct idea of the kind of trade they wanted, and at the top of the list was the trade they got. The Thunder initially wanted a little more from the Rockets -- including Chandler Parsons -- but ultimately were good with the package they got.
It's likely a matter of perspective. The Wizards may have simply declined to even talk with the Thunder about a Harden deal because Leonsis wasn't willing to pay the max extension price, and so that was seen as turning down an offer.
Regardless, the Wizards evidently weren't willing to go for Harden because of dollars, not because of what the trade involved. And for a team that started off with yet another miserable season, that has to be frustrating.
But whatever the semantics are, the fact is, the Wizards weren't interested, and James Harden is a Houston Rocket. Whether or not those two things are directly connected, it's hard to know.