The Thunder traded Harden to the Houston Rockets in October. The Rockets, who play the Wizards in Houston Wednesday, gave Harden, who is having an all-star caliber season averaging nearly 25 points per game, the large contract he had been seeking.
Leonsis, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Thunder General Manager Sam Presti all declined comment when asked about the proposed trade. One Wizards official denied that Oklahoma City had offered Harden in exchange for Beal and Singleton, stating that the Thunder was also seeking an established player — which the Wizards didn’t have — in return. “That’s not true,” the official said about the proposed deal.
Beal was drafted third overall by Washington in June, and the Thunder didn’t make the offer for Beal and Singleton until two months later, according to an NBA front office executive, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject matter.
A person with knowledge of Oklahoma City’s interest in Beal said the Wizards’ decision to hold on to Beal made sense because teams are often willing to trade draft picks but are more inclined to keep players once they’ve been selected.
The Wizards, who before the trade proposal came up had acquired three expensive veteran players, also likely would have been subject to an NBA luxury tax penalty for having a total payroll over the prescribed threshold if they had signed Harden.
Considering how poorly this season has begun for the Wizards — who beat the New Orleans Hornets 77-70 Tuesday but still have an NBA-worst 3-15 record — and the general lack of excitement surrounding the team, dealing for Harden might have been worth the risk in the short term.
Harden was drafted third overall out of Arizona State in 2009 and came into his own last season, when he helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals before playing onthe gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team. The 6-foot-5 lefty ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring this season.
The Wizards would have had one of the more dynamic young back courts in the NBA, with the 22-year-old John Wall and the 23-year-old Harden. Harden also could have helped the Wizards better withstand the absence of Wall, who remains sidelined with a stress injury in his left knee, which was diagnosed in late September.
Oklahoma City traded Harden because it risked a stiff luxury tax bill once the penalties of the new collective bargaining agreement take hold in the 2013-14 season.