Only four days remained for the Thunder to reach an agreement on a long term contract with Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but as contract negotiations broke down, the Thunder acted quickly.
Once it was determined that an agreement couldn’t be reached by Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti, just hours after Harden declined to sign a contract extension, he shipped the 23-year-old guard to the Rockets.
After reaching the NBA Finals four months ago with the most talented group of young players in the league, Harden was the final piece to keep the team intact for years.
In the aftermath of ‘The Decision‘, Oklahoma City was beginning to assemble a perennial contender.
Since Durant was signed under the league’s old collective bargaining agreement, the team had the ability to offer a maximum contract to its other All-Star.
With less than a week remaining to agree to a long term deal with Russell Westbrook or risk losing him as a restricted free agent last summer, the Thunder reached an agreement on a five-year $80 million contract.
As Durant and Westbrook formed one of the most dynamic duos in the league, as both helped Team USA capture the gold medal at the FIBA World Championship and were selected to represent the Western Conference at the All-Star game each of the last two years, the team around them developed rapidly.
Serge Ibaka transformed into the most dominant shot blocker in a league in desperate need of one and Harden evolved into the key contributor off then bench capable of taking over a game when necessary.
Durant and Westbrook averaged 51.6 points per game and the rest of the starting lineup added just 19.
Harden was the change of pace player off the bench, able to fill in for Durant at small forward, Westbrook at point guard, or play alongside the two at shooting guard.
The 6-foot-5 guard out of Arizona State developed into one of the vital pieces for Oklahoma City, averaging a career-highs in nearly every statistical category: 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 49.1 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range.
In games when he scored 24 or more points, Oklahoma City went 8-0 in the regular season.
When the Thunder needed Harden to perform, he was able to provide an impact early in the post season.
A 15 point effort in the fourth quarter helped complete a sweep of Dallas in the opening round and his step back 3-pointer in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals proved to be the most important shot of the series.
Once the Finals began against Miami, Harden’s reliable jump shot disappeared, to the point he was even missing crucial free throws, as he shot 37.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from 3-point range while averaging 12.4 points over five games.
Oklahoma City fell just three wins shy of the NBA title and was determined to find a way to retain both Ibaka and Harden this off season.
Two months ago, the Thunder agreed to four-year $40 million deal with Ibaka, a move that can be seen as the team prioritizing the power forward over Harden.
The two sides had to come to terms on a new deal by Wednesday, with both sides confident an agreement would be reached.
The difficult part for Oklahoma City was convincing Harden to take a deal worth less than the four-year $60 million he could receive in the free agent market and maintain his role off the bench.
Throughout the league, there is a lack of talent at the shooting guard position and because of Harden’s skill set, several teams would have given him the additional money the Thunder was withholding to avoid luxury tax penalties.
Instead of risking Harden in free agency, Oklahoma City shipped him 450 miles south to Houston to remain a contender this season.
The Thunder were just three wins shy of an NBA championship, now it must discover if it is now one player short from building a dynasty.