Why The James Harden Trade Works Out Well For Both The Thunder & Rockets

On Saturday night, when game three of the World Series was ongoing and college football was in full swing, something big happened in the NBA that shocked everyone in the sports world. After not reaching a contract extension by the October 31st deadline and still not looking likely that it would happen in the last remaining days, the Oklahoma City Thunder gave up and started shopping around sixth man of the year award winner, James Harden, in hopes of finding him a new home before the regular season began. No one had knew that the contract situation had gotten bad, but it did. Also, no one in their right minds thought that the Thunder would even think of trading James Harden, who was apart of their core four on the team that also consists of, point guard Russell Westbrook, small forward Kevin Durant, and power forward Serge Ibaka. Those three guys had already been signed to contract extensions, with the latest being Serge Ibaka this past summer. So with those three guys locked up for the future, the Thunder turned their attention to their prized sixth man, who would start on any other team, and pay huge dividends. They tried for a long time to re-sign Harden but Harden wanted all the money he could get and a starting job. Oklahoma City couldn’t do both. So even if a contract extension didn’t get done, everyone though that the Thunder would just ride out this season with Harden and go on another NBA title run.

What happened next was one of the biggest “oh my god” moments in my sports life. The Thunder would trade James Harden on Saturday night to the Houston Rockets for two nice young pieces, Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, and three draft picks, with two being first round picks owned by the Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks, and the other being a second round pick owned by the Charlotte Bobcats, all in 2013. The Oklahoma City and Houston GM’s, Sam Presti and Daryl Morey, respectively, kept these trade talks totally quiet. When the news broke on Saturday night, at about 10:00 pm eastern time, by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the social media world blew up with tweets like “James Harden was traded?! WHAT?!” and “How can you trade James Harden when you’re a championship chasing team???”. Those are only two types of tweets that were sent out, out of thousands. The Rockets also added center Cole Aldrich, small forward Lazar Hayward, and shooting guard Daequan Cook, who are all mostly just bench players and role players. This has to be one of the most shocking, out of nowhere trades since the Utah Jazz traded point guard Deron Williams to the then New Jersey Nets, now the Brooklyn Nets, in February of 2010. No one saw this coming and no one thought the Thunder would do something like this when they are arguably the best team in the Western Conference and one of the only teams that may pose a threat to the Miami Heat in repeating as NBA Champions. Personally, I like this trade for Oklahoma City AND Houston. Here’s why.

I like this trade for Oklahoma City because instead of probably losing James Harden in free agency for nothing, they got maximum value for him in a trade. They get back Kevin Martin, who over his career has averaged 18.3 points per game, a career 88.4% free throw shooter, and a solid three-point shooter at 37.7%. He has averaged over 40% from three-point land twice in his career. Martin is on the final year of his contract at $12 million and he could wind up as a valuable trade chip this season and allow the Thunder to add even more draft picks. The Thunder also received rookie shooting guard Jeremy Lamb out of UCONN, who projects as a really good NBA shooting guard with deep range past the three-point line, a smooth jump shot, and really good defense as he could be a guy who garners a lot of steals. Lamb is only 20 years old and has a lot of time to grow and mature. Lamb projects as the long-term replacement for Harden down the road, and Martin projects as the short-term replacement as we all know he can score, and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the primary scorers on this team, Martin should get a lot of open looks and plenty of chances to score like Harden did. This team is still a title contender with the team it has assembled right now, and the depth it has, especially in the back court. Add in the fact that OKC added two first round draft picks from Dallas and Toronto, and a second round pick from Charlotte, which Houston was holding from previous trades, and you can add a lot of great young talent before the 2013-2014 season to go with Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Lamb, and Thabo Sefolosha. Oklahoma City’s own and Dallas’ first round picks figure to be in the 20’s, but Toronto isn’t too good and might allow OKC to get a top 10 pick from them, which would be huge when you already got all these stars on the Thunder and the chance to add a top 10 pick or at least a lottery player. A lot of people believe that Charlotte will finish with the worst record this season and if they get the first overall pick, that gives them the first pick in round two as well and it could almost be like Oklahoma City has FOUR first round picks in 2013, which would be insane. Oklahoma City will not go away and will be a problem for the next 10 years, yes, 10 years. They did great in this trade.

I like this trade for Houston because they finally get a superstar player that they have wanted and have lacked since Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady left the team a couple of years ago. Did they overpay? Possibly, but that remains to be seen. Houston will undoubtedly re-sign Harden to the contract extension he wants, which is a four-year, $60 million MAX deal or even a five-year deal around the max of $80 million. They signed former New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin and former Chicago Bulls center Omer Asik this off-season, and have some young pieces on this team in Terrance Jones, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Royce White, Marcus Morris, Scott Machado, and Donatas Motiejunas. So they do got a lot of depth, but it’s a very, very young team and will take a few years to become the possible force they think they can become. It’s a nice start none the less as they have a young floor general in Lin, a really good defensive big man in Asik, and a superstar scorer in Harden, with all the young kids there ready to become role players and create a forceful bench. I don’t think they gave up much in terms of players as Martin was on an expensive expiring contract and although they do give up a young shooting guard in Lamb, they have their new long-term shooting guard in Harden, who is a player you know what you’re getting out of, and he is only 23 years old. Yeah, think about that. Harden is this good already and he’s only 23 years old. Although they do give up three draft picks, none of the draft picks are of their own, so they still do have their own first and second round picks to add even more depth. I think whether the draft picks pan out for Oklahoma City or not will determine if Houston made a good trade or not. So that will remain to be seen.

Both teams look to be in good shape going forward after this trade, I believe. This trade also stops Oklahoma City from giving Harden a max deal and being thrown into financial hell by not having much money left to sign future role players and add more money to their payroll, so they relieve themselves from being in the same financial situation as the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Miami Heat. They add young players for the future and add depth, so I really like this deal for OKC. I think if there is a winner in this trade, I have to give the slight edge to the Thunder by staying out of financial trouble, adding a young shooter, and three draft picks. I’m not bagging on Rockets for this trade, but I just prefer the Thunder side of it. We’re only one day away from the official tip-off of the 2012-2013 NBA regular season and we already have a big trade occurring, so I think this is a sign that this is going to be yet another exciting, tremendous NBA season. Enjoy the season everyone.

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