James Harden trade: Could the Wizards have made the deal, and should they have?

Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

Another star has been traded and all seems to be quiet in the Wizards war room

The news that the Wizards would consider Bradley Beal as a centerpiece in a trade package aimed at James Harden isn't especially surprising. An indication that 'semi-serious internal or external disccusions' took place on that score is interesting to say the least. Two questions immediately come to mind:

  • Could the Wizards have made the trade?
  • Should the Wizards have made the trade?

While conversation along those avenues can be intense and informative, I don't think it's meaningful enough unless we combine the two questions; if the Wizards could have made the trade, should they have made the trade? First, let's look at the moving parts (courtesy Welcome to Loud City):

  • The Rockets sent Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, the 2013 Raptors first-round pick (Top 4 protected, can't be lower than 14), the 2013 Mavericks first-round pick (Top 20 protected) and a second rounder from the Bobcats
  • The Thunder sent James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward

Part One - If talks happened post-#Okariza

First thing's first, the Wizards could offer no equivalent of Kevin Martin. While his career is no longer on the upswing, there is no proven scorer with an expiring contract on the local roster. Martin's skillset is plug and play for a team looking to win now without breaking the bank down the road. The closest thing to a valuable veteran on an 'expiring' contract the Wizards have to offer is Emeka Okafor. That also unbalances the trade from a cap perspective ... unless we replace Cole Aldrich with Kendrick Perkins?

Obviously, Bradley Beal goes for James Harden. We can imagine Daequan Cook was traded for salary and roster balancing purposes. Harden only accounts for half of Martin's deal and the Thunder don't need to roll five deep at shooting guard. In our imaginary Wizards move for Harden, there's already $17.6 million in outgoing salary, with $13.6 million incoming. Cook and Hayward stitch up that gap quite nicely. Note: Both teams have small trade exceptions (WAS $1.9 million, OKC $1.3 million). Assume Presti wants and gets Vesely.

When it comes to draft picks, the Wizards have a hard time competing. They can offer their 2013 pick with whatever protections you might imagine, but the chances of the Wiz finishing in the lottery with Harden opposite Wall and Nene are slim. The luxury of having another team's middle lottery pick in your back pocket is a powerful inducement when considering the value of draft picks in trade for an outgoing All-Star. Let's say the Wizards offer top-3 protected picks in 2013 and 2015, with whatver Presti wants from the second rounders in those years.

So, post-#Okariza, a Harden trade might have looked something like Bradley Beal, Emeka Okafor, Jan Vesely, two first round draft picks and second rounder whenever in return for Perkins, Harden, Cook and Hayward. If Presti wanted Seraphin, the likelihood of Aldrich coming back spikes, but we'll say Vesely for now.

What's the upshot for OKC? Improved lateral speed on the interior defense with uncertain production at SG and a much larger cap number at center, albeit on a shorter deal. Vesely/Seraphin are intriguing talents and eith one provides needed depth for the Thunder frontcourt. They lose a superior toe-to-toe post defender and commanding locker room presence. The picks are inferior, unless that Dallas pick swings the needle for being Top-20 protected through 2017. The immediate problem is that OKC prioritized ensuring production at SG this year while looking to the future in the same breath. The Wizards can only deliver on one of those scores while not being able to provide a lottery pick and I think OKC rejects and asking whether the Wizards should have gone for Harden is a non-starter. Ernie Grunfeld cannot put a package together more enticing than Daryl Morey with the current pieces available.

Part Two - If talks happened pre-#Okariza

Assume Rashard Lewis has been amnestied and this deal feels like a better fit. That is not to say it's a good one for OKC because the biggest problem still stands; uncertain offensive production at SG. And the draft picks are still inferior. When the assets are inferior, there must be more of them to make up the gap. So offering up Beal+Ves/Seraphin+2013/15 first rounders wouldn't have worked, so that's probably two of Booker, Seraphin and Vesely. Would OKC have bit on that? Maybe they're willing to risk a serious drop in offensive production at shooting guard for the equivalent of five first round draft picks. That's also more than the Clippers paid for Chris Paul.

If the Harden talks occurred pre-#Okariza, that's also a HUGE indicator of how badly Houston wanted him. Let's take a quick trip to the tinfoil section. They traded a legitimate center for two spots in last summer's draft, apparently to improve their package for Dwight Howard. Would they have traded a budding star in Kyle Lowry for a lottery asset OKC had stated a need for? Were the Wizards in contention for Harden at that point? Was the race over when that trade happened, waiting only for Harden to accept or reject Presti's sub-max offer? These kinds of details have a way of making their way out later, but the results are in the books. Back to the 'five first round draft picks' angle.

Maybe Presti would settle. I doubt it. So while a lot of the talk in the Bullets Forever community has centered around the 'should the Wizards have made a play for Harden' angle. I don't think it's relevant because the Wiz are unable to match what the Rockets put down without offering a king's ransom that still doesn't match the return OKC is looking at now. That's over and I think there's a season or something starting tonight. Game on.

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