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Why the Washington Wizards reportedly turning down a chance at James Harden made sense for their mess

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Both of these players could have worn the same uniform, if only briefly (Getty Images)

You're almost tempted to save all your words about the reports of Washington turning down a deal for James Harden for when the current regime in Washington is shown the door. For when personnel chief Ernie Grunfeld eventually leaves the team, and a new GM is put in place to clean up years' worth of messes. Like, the remnants of who Grunfeld had to trade for to lose the extension he signed Gilbert Arenas to. Or the years it will take to win fans back because Grunfeld committed to players with questionable character, from Arenas all the way down to the team's scrubs, or project players that never worked out. Or the lottery selections that haven't made much of an impact at this level. Or the veterans Grunfeld traded for in order to make one last stab at respectability before he was shown the door.

That's when you remind folks that, due to a series of missteps that led up to the Wizards reportedly being offered a gifting of James Harden, the Wizards had to pass. Understandably so in some ways, weirdly.

If you're just catching up, here's our take from the Yahoo! Sports Minute:

Michael Lee, who broke the story of Washington turning down a deal that would have sent Bradley Beal and Chris Singleton to Oklahoma City for Harden, broke down the team's anticipated salary structure:

If the Wizards had traded for Harden, his $5.8 million salary this season would not have changed the team's payroll much. But with the maximum deal Harden signed with Houston, his salary will jump to $13.7 million next season, when the Wizards would be committing almost $68 million in salary for just 10 players.

Even if the Wizards filled out the 15-man roster with minimum-salaried players, that would have potentially put the team's payroll above the current luxury tax threshold of almost $70 million this season.

With the new luxury tax penalty plus another $7.8 million going to the waived Andray Blatche the Wizards' payroll would actually be close to $90 million.

Beal confirmed to Lee that he met with the Thunder before last June's draft, even though Oklahoma City owned the 27th pick in the draft and Beal was long expected to be a top-five selection. Beal, who went third overall to Washington, has struggled significantly in his rookie year — posting a 35.9 percent mark from the field and hardly looking the part of the shooter (both in form, and his 31 percent work from long range) that most pegged him as when he prepared to enter the NBA out of the University of Florida.

Instead, months later, Presti turned to the Houston Rockets in dealing Harden. He secured what could be a 2013 lottery pick from the Toronto Raptors (unless they lose enough to earn a pick in the top three in this spring's draft lottery), a young guard in Jeremy Lamb that they're afforded the chance to take their time with and develop in the D-League, and an efficient scorer in Kevin Martin that has helped the Thunder take the top spot in offensive efficiency this year. That's right — the Thunder traded a player that might be the most effective pick and roll player of his generation, and actually improved this year offensively.

The Wizards are 3-15.

Somehow, though, you can understand the reasons behind Washington saying "no." In the same way you can understand spending ungodly millions back in 2008 to keep Arenas and Jamison around, or the Jan Vesely pick, or stepping to the plate to pick up sometimes-solid players in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza (qualifier: I wrote "sometimes"). All those moves had their "yeah, I kind of get it"-moments.

Trading for Harden meant trading for a contract extension, or trading for a one-year rental. Trading for an extension meant paying the luxury tax for a roster that probably didn't deserve it. Trading for a one-year rental, assuming the team would pass on matching any offers for Harden this summer out of payroll concerns, would have meant trading for the assured end of the Ernie Grunfeld era.

A trade nearly all Wizards fans would eagerly accept without hesitation. Even if it only meant 80 or so games of James Harden and the loss of yet another lottery pick.

What luck for Oklahoma City, being turned down and stumbling into a far superior deal just before the season started. And what an expected turnout for Washington, a team that can't seem to get back on its feet because the man attempting to help it up was the one who kneecapped it in the first place.

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