Back in October, there was a Grantland report suggesting that the Washington Wizards were one of several teams that the Oklahoma City Thunder talked to about James Harden before dealing him to the Houston Rockets. Now, we have a more specific report about the discussions. Michael Lee of the Washington Post writes that the Wizards rejected a trade that would have sent Harden to D.C. for Bradley Beal and Chris Singleton because owner Ted Leonsis did not want to pay Harden a five-year maximum contract and potentially go over the luxury tax.
That's the basic version. There are some complexities to discuss.
Lee's piece suggests that the proposal happened a couple months after the Wizards selected Beal and traded for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. That timing is crucial. According to ace Thunder blogger Royce Young, the Thunder never fully committed to trading Harden until after he turned down their final contract offer in October. At that point, the Rockets' offer was the only one they seriously considered before pulling the trigger. That means that, semantically, the Thunder never technically presented an "offer" for the Wizards to reject.
However, that trade likely didn't just come out of thin air. Like any team, the Thunder knew the situation with Harden, so they probably canvased the league informally to gauge Harden's value. The Beal/Singleton for Harden combination could very easily have been the framework of just one of those informal discussions regarding Harden. Whether the two teams advanced into any serious discussion is somewhat unclear. One Wizards source I spoke to tonight said the teams talked, but the discussions never got serious. Lee's story clearly suggests otherwise.
If one is to believe Lee's report, the Wizards never took the deal seriously because of financial concerns. There's potentially something to that. Remember that Leonsis told us in our community Q&A that the Wizards have "no intentions" to go over the luxury tax. However, technically, had the trade somehow gone through, the Wizards would have been salary-neutral this season, then slated to pay about $67 million to nine players once you account for the difference between Harden's first-year maximum salary and the salaries of Beal and Singleton. The luxury tax would have been somewhere over $70 million. It would have been a very tight squeeze, and that figure doesn't include the money owed to Andray Blatche after the amnesty clause was used, but technically, the Wizards could have offloaded some pieces and figured out a way to get under the tax.
In other words: while the luxury tax is always a factor, I think the Wizards probably would have figured out a workaround if they could really secure a talent like Harden.
(One other small factor to consider: if the Wizards gave the five-year maximum contract to Harden, they could not do the same to John Wall if they deemed him worthy of that deal once he is eligible to sign an early contract extension. That could have happened as soon as this summer. Keep in mind: these talks happened over the summer, when it wasn't clear how long Wall would be sidelined due to injury).
Leonsis declined to comment on the rumor when reached by email.
On talent alone, Harden is well worth the price of Beal and Singleton, so I can understand if this one stings. As usual, it's not fully clear whether there was legitimately a chance to get Harden. However, there has been enough smoke to suggest that this was something the Wizards at least thought about.