On Saturday October 27, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded fan favorite James Harden to the Houston Rockets after failing to reach an agreement on a contract extension.
In addition to Harden, the trade also sent Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston in exchange for guard Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and one second-round draft pick. Many Thunder fans are emotionally attached to Harden and are therefore not thrilled about this trade. Some fans are questioning general manager, Sam Presti’s decision. Setting emotion aside for a minute, I absolutely believe Presti made the right decision and this move will ultimately benefit OKC.
Many fans want to focus on what the Thunder lost in Harden, but I want to focus for a moment on what they gained. Lets start with Martin. Martin has averaged 18.4 ppg in his career, averaged more points than Harden last season, shoots at a high efficiency and I believe will be a great addition to OKC’s roster. He’s fast, athletic and good at getting to the free throw line, which fits right in with what the Thunder like to do. His career free throw percentage is 86.5 and he’s not a bad three-point shooter with a career average of 37.7. I’d also like to point out that he’s achieved these numbers without any help from a supporting cast. He played his first six seasons as a member of the Sacramento Kings and has played his last three seasons in Houston. He’s never played on a playoff team with an all-star supporting cast so it’ll be interesting to see how he does playing alongside some of the best young talent in the NBA. My guess is his play will improve.
In addition to Martin, OKC gained a talented young rookie in Lamb who was impressive in pre-season and two first-round draft picks plus one second-round draft pick. A lot of how people will view this trade come end of the season will depend on how Lamb develops and what he is able to contribute in his first season. This is a team that is built for the future and this decision by Presti was clearly a long-term one.
Let us also keep in mind that with this trade I will expect Thabo Sefalosha, the starting shooting guard for OKC, to play more minutes and take more shots. Sefalosha is more known for his defensive abilities but don’t be confused, although he doesn’t take many shots, he shoots the ball at 43.8 percent. I expect him to put more points on the board this season along with Serge Ibaka. Ibaka vastly improved his mid-range jump shot last season and has continued to work on his shooting this off-season. I think he will replace Harden as the third member of OKC’s big three. I also expect Perry Jones III to see more playing time as a result of this trade along with second year guard Deandre Liggins, who was also impressive in preseason. If these guys step up, losing Harden won’t be a loss at all.
When you take these things into consideration you might begin to realize that Harden’s offense will not be missed. Harden wasn’t great defensively so that aspect of his game won’t be missed either but what could be is his playmaking ability. However, back up point guard Eric Maynor is now back and healthy this season and Reggie Jackson is coming after his spot. Both these players have the ability to be very good playmakers. Bottom line I’m trying to make is OKC did not lose anything they can’t replace other than maybe the beard.
This trade was also necessary from a financial aspect. Fans need to keep in mind that at the end of the day the NBA is a business. Harden talked a big game about sacrificing for the team and how this team was like family but at the end of the day he was not willing sacrifice for his family. Harden was offered a four year, $55 million contract and turned it down. Harden wanted the max and with Durant and Westbrook signed to max contracts and with Serge Ibaka signing a four-year deal worth $48 million during this off-season, this was not something OKC could afford. Some may call OKC cheap but remember Durant and Westbrook both took small pay cuts to stay in OKC. Both could’ve easily found teams willing to offer them more money but chose to sign extensions with the Thunder instead, which makes me wonder why Harden was not willing to do the same.
It seems to me people are overestimating how much this trade will affect OKC. Lets keep in mind for a moment that Harden was not a starter but a sixth man, a bench player. He was 6th Man of the Year last season and earned a spot on the Olympic team but lets not pretend that playing alongside Westbrook and Durant didn’t help him to achieve these things. Ultimately I think Harden was the loser in this trade, going from a playoff team looking to challenge for a second consecutive Finals appearance to a team that’ll be lucky if they make the playoffs as an eighth seed. Harden may have gained money but he may have lost his best shot at winning a ring. That being said I don’t fault him for chasing the money.
Before I wrap this up though lets remember a key fact people seem to be forgetting; this trade has left OKC with two open roster spots and some money to play with. This begs the question what will Presti do with it? Only time will tell but the man has never lead his team or their fans wrong. I will also never worry about the team’s chances as long as they have their dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook
OKC’s season kicks off against San Antonio this Thursday, November 1 on ESPN. Let the Thunder begin.