Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti couldn't wait. The new NBA collective bargaining agreement wouldn't let him.
In a bold move that several franchises shied away from in recent years, Presti traded away an Olympian who potentially might have been the most coveted free agent on the market next summer. Presti dealt Harden, along with center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward, to the Houston Rockets for guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks and a second rounder.
Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, was an integral part of the Thunder's run to the Western Conference title and the NBA Finals last season. The 23-year-old former third overall pick was seen as part of Oklahoma City's long-term program alongside All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the rapidly-improving Serge Ibaka.
Instead, Harden begins his fourth season with arguably one of the worst teams in the West. The decision to move the bearded guard comes down...