The Beard comes back to Oklahoma City tonight. Just one month exactly after he left. As one person texted me, it definitely has that ex-boyfriend-is-coming-back-over-to-get-their-things vibe to it.
How should Thunder fans react to his return? And more importantly, with a month in the rearview mirror, how has this whole thing worked out?
1. Should Thunder fans boo James Harden tonight?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Don’t boo. But outside of pregame introductions, don’t cheer either. I’m definitely on record saying that I’m not a fan of the way Harden handled things publicly, but at the same time, the guy deserved his money. He earned that max deal and the fact was, the Thunder weren’t willing to give it to him. They could’ve, but they didn’t. That’s not Harden’s fault. At the same time, there were some hurt feelings because of the way Harden talked about sacrificing and brotherhood and all that crap. Booing just makes Thunder fans look petty, but the fact is, he’s on the other team now. He’s not one of us anymore. He gave us great memories and moments. But that stuff is just history now.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: Sure, if he does something worth booing. But not just for showing up. My prediction for what will happen is the same I’ve heard most everywhere else: He’ll be cheered when he’s introduced and then mostly ignored. Maybe some light boos when he hits a 3-pointer and does his celebration. And that’s about it. He made a choice that most people are over, even if they were mad about it at the time. Most people are thankful he was in town for three years. And they’ll react accordingly.
Eddie Maisonet, Sports Fan Journal/SB Nation: If they did I’d be thoroughly disappointed in them. Its easy to say what you would do if someone offered you $54-80 million to play basketball, but no one’s knocking on your door to do such a thing. The Fear The Beard movement started in OKC, and we’ll continue to cherish the 2009-12 Thunder era many moons from now.
Young: The only game I think the Thunder win that they lost if they had Harden is the opening night game against the Spurs. OKC got a dose of Bad Russell that night on top of trying to sort out a major roster change just two days before. Other than that, the season’s gone mostly according to plan. It’s not like the Thunder would be 15-0 with Harden, but there were some fears of what the Thunder would do without him. Which is what makes their 11-4 record look pretty solid right now. With Harden on the roster, people would probably be searching less for flaws and a little more comfortable with the team though.
James: Probably not. The way this season feels would be different, but not the way it looks. The Thunder would be right on pace to be a top seed in the West. The teams that are pretty good would still be pretty good. Only the uncertainty of how all this will look in key moments in May is what makes it feel a little different, and getting used to the changes in style of play necessitated by replacing Harden with Kevin Martin. But the Thunder resemble a contender. Once people get used to the way the team plays, and the Thunder have a few statement wins under their belt, the remaining uncertainty will start to melt away.
Maisonet: Oklahoma City probably wins 1-2 more games with Harden versus Kevin Martin, but 12-3 (with a 7-game winning streak) versus 11-4 (with a shuffled roster days before the regular season starts) with a 3-game lead in the division after 15 games? That’s plenty acceptable either way you look at it.
3. With a month to reflect on, did Sam Presti make the right move?
Young: I didn’t like the move much when it happened. Part of that was because I was completely stunned, part of it was because I simply didn’t like it. But I definitely understand why the move was made and in terms of it being right, I think it was. It kept the Thunder very competitive in the West in the short-term while still keeping the long-term bright. It sucks that we’ll never know what a Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka-Harden core could’ve done over the next four or five seasons, but that’s just it. We might not ever know if it was the “right” move, since we can’t know if with Harden OKC would’ve won a title. If they win one with Martin or the future assets that came with it, then it’s absolutely validated.
James: The only thing you can really tell after a month, if you can tell anything, is whether or not a trade is immediately apparent as a disaster. And that certainly isn’t the case. And what would have been a disaster anyway, Martin shooting 30 percent and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook feuding? The former would be something that would correct itself a bit over time, and the latter shows no sign of ever happening except for the momentary battles any set of teammates will share over the course of a long season and long career. You can’t really give a definitive answer to this until after the playoffs and after Martin signs his next contract. But it’s truly impossible to already say it’s the wrong move — and as long as that’s the case, the faith in Presti is justified.
Maisonet: It’s still too early to tell. While I think the trade itself was great for the future, the trade told me that OKC never really intended to pay Harden anyway. Thusly, the Thunder were going to move in a different direction. What will be more interesting is the next couple of moves that are sitting on Presti’s desk. Do they move Kendrick Perkins? Do they re-package Martin + picks for another stud wing? Do they re-sign Martin and move forward towards a title run? Presti’s always been perceived as playing chess with checkers players, and time will tell if he’s truly the Bobby Fischer of general managers or not.