Houston we Have a Problem
The Washington Wizards almost ended up trading the third pick in the draft back in 2012. According to Beal, the Oklahoma City Thunder could’ve potentially acquired him in the draft.
Beal stated “We’re sitting in the draft room, sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, ‘It’s possible you might go to OKC.’ I said, ‘Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t worked out for OKC.’ I only worked out for three teams: Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte. That’s when Harden was still in OKC. So the deal was to trade James to Washington. … OKC was going to trade up to get me, trade James to Washington for me. I would have been in OKC with K.D. and Russ. … That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.”
At the time James Harden was coming off a season in which he was the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year. He had come off a season in which he averaged 16.8 points per game and 4.1 assists per game.
For this reason Harden felt he was worthy of a max contract in Washington. Ted Leonsis had felt otherwise though and that’s why the deal fell through at the last minute.
What the Deal Could’ve Meant for the Washington Wizards
For the Wizards the deal could’ve potentially interfered with their attempt to lure Kevin Durant during the 2016 offseason. The team was trying to open cap space years in advance to acquire Durant.
At this time no one projected Harden to turn into the type of player that could average over 36 points per game in a single season. He did so during the 2018-19 season in which he averaged 36.4 points per game.
The Wizards were looking for a franchise player in Kevin Durant. Yet, ironically Harden gelled into a franchise player over the next few seasons averaging 27.2 points per game from 2014-2016 while playing for the Houston Rockets.
It’s also worth noting that in 2016 when it was time for Durant to enter free agency he didn’t include Washington on the list of places he’d like to play.
A lot of people had felt that Washington was a viable option for Durant, given that Lebron James had returned to his home state Ohio to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Durant would be returning home too.
If the Wizards currently had Harden, the pairing would be beneficial for both parties. Washington head coach Scott Brooks runs a simple offense that is focused on getting players open for the shots they can hit. The current roster is fairly short on talent, as no one on the team made the All-Star Game for the 2020 season.
What the Deal Could’ve Meant for the Oklahoma City Thunder
The deal could’ve meant that the Thunder would’ve had the cap space to keep Durant for many years to come, along with Westbrook.
Durant was also beginning to feel that he couldn’t win a championship from within the Thunders organization. This can best be represented during the 2013-14 season for the Thunder. During this season Durant won MVP. However his team still couldn’t make it past the the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals.
In that series, the Thunder fell in six games 4-2.
If Beal went to the thunder it would’ve led to Durant and Westbrook getting more open looks. Beal is a less ball-dominant player than Harden as Harden plays using lots of isolation.
Westbrook also loves to shoot the ball and while the pair did recently team up in Houston on the Rockets, their playing styles don’t necessarily fit. This can be noted by the fact that the Houston Rockets currently stand in sixth in the Western Conference.
The Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder both have less offensive talent. However the players on the roster mold together. This is why they are both ahead of Houston in the Western Conference standings.
The Role of a Team Player Like Beal
Throughout Beal’s career, he has played a very unselfish role as a player.
Beal previously stated, ” I’d like to spend my whole career playing in one location.”
Beal has also shown that he is willing to let others lead the Washington Wizards when necessary.
For instance, when John Wall was healthy Beal generally knew that the last shot would be coming for Wall. He openly accepted this, while still wanting to have the last shot for himself. He accepted this because it was what most believed was best for the team at the time.
It is these types of personality traits that makes it believable that Beal would’ve been willing to accept a salary cut in order to keep the hypothetical trio of Beal, Westbrook and Durant together.
It’s also important to note that when Durant entered free agency at the end of the 2015-16 season, Beal had come off a season in which he only averaged 17.1 points per game for the Washington Wizards.
If he played at a similar clip in Oklahoma City it may have provided Durant with the hope that the team could soon contend for a championship.