STORMY FINISH?

Experiment in Oklahoma City looks to be a failure for Thunder

Russell Westbrook and the Thunder are on the verge of being ousted by Utah. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Last summer everyone was waiting for the next super team to form. Where would Carmelo go?  Where would Paul George go?  One day the Lakers were the place for Paul and the Rockets the place for Carmelo, another day the Cavaliers and so on and so forth until the smoke cleared and both landed in Oklahoma City.  Huh?  Yeah, the place that has been bleeding talent for the last three years suddenly is in the business of bringing Russell Westbrook help?  I guess the powers that be decided that if you’re going to pay Westbrook $200 million dollars he should have some help to actually win something, and so the newest super team was formed.

But honestly, this was never a squad that worked right. Carmelo is known as a guy who scores buckets by the bushel, George has never really lived up to the hype. In the era of the dominant three, he’s always been well, third fiddle, and Westbrook for all his venom and vitriol is probably going to be the odd guy out when it comes to championship rings when it’s all said and done in this era, and putting them together just made for a weird casserole of headlines, under-performance and typical media questions like “who takes the last shot?” “Whose team is this?”

I’ve never understood those questions because there’s one thing Coach Gene Hackman taught me in the movie The Replacements, “winners want the ball.”  So obviously, Westbrook right? Or George? Well definitely not Carmelo right?  Either way it looks a little irrelevant now.  Fast forward to the playoffs and here we are in the first round and Mr Double Triple Double and company are on the verge of a five game bounce by the far less talked about Utah Jazz.  Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gobert and the genuine rookie of the year Donovan Mitchell are stifling the poorly built Thunder and suddenly storm clouds are forming on the horizon.

Paul George is scheduled to make $20.3 million dollars this coming season but can opt out and wear a ski mask to get around $30 million dollars in a new max deal.  It’s the NBA so someone will probably give it to a guy who has never done much more than aggravate Lebron James in a few playoff series. But should it be the Thunder?

Don’t forget about Carmelo, who gave up $8 million dollars in a trade kicker to come to Oklahoma, and also has an opt out for this season.  So if you’re Oklahoma, this year you paid about $70 million to three guys and surrounded them with Australian Jason Mamoa and Raymond Felton to limp out of the playoffs in the first round in what will presumably be five games and now each of those three guys is going to cost about $10 million more next year.  Awesome.

In today’s nonsensical topsy turvy NBA you’re going to see a bunch of talking heads on TV all summer long try and convince you that Oklahoma needs to resign George and Carmelo.  That giving each of them another $175 million each is the only hope Oklahoma has of winning anything. Let me simplify this for you; no it isn’t.  As a matter of fact this is exactly the one thing (I guess technically, two things) OKC shouldn’t do.  You tell them each, thanks but no thanks and you go out and sign three more guys who can defend and shoot the 3 and you let Westbrook sell out your arena night in and night out in his pursuit of all kinds of regular season accolades and early playoff exits, because there isn’t a team that OKC could build in the next three years that would overtake Golden State or Houston. Or next year’s Lakers or this year’s Utah Jazz for that matter.  If you’re OKC you have to have the presence of mind to realize that once Durant left, the championship window closed, and that once James Harden left Durant was never far behind.  So say goodbye to Carmelo and Paul, say hello to lots of stats, 45 wins a year and mediocrity.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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