Wow. Talk about out of the blue. A team known for its explosive and unexpected nature on the court has apparently taken that style into the front office, as they shocked the NBA by sending James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward, and Dequan Cook to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, as well as a second round 2013 pick, and two from the first round. To be honest, I never saw this coming. The Thunder were at a place where they simply had to say goodbye to one of their stars. This comes with being a small market team. I figured OKC would release Serge Ibaka before they even considered getting rid of James Harden. Harden was crucial to the success of the team this year and had the numbers to show for it. However, in the end it was numbers that caused the rift between the Thunder and Harden. This number happened to be 5. As in 5 million dollars.
Harden demanded 5 extra million to his four year contract, and OKC simply refused to give it to him. Just the same, how can a player so beloved suddenly get shipped out? The OKC front office showed us exactly how that can happen. And while Houston intends to give Harden the money he wanted, don’t expect him to have half the success he enjoyed in a Thunder uniform. When the closest thing to old friend Kevin Durant Harden is going to have is Jeremy Lin, you know things aren’t going to be great. Despite how surprising the trade was, you still have to look and try to discover who is going to get the best deal out of this. For the sake of argument, I will say that the parties impacted the most from this trade are going to be James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Houston Rockets. While other players were involved in the deal, none of them display the same talent and potential that is apparent in James Harden.
What it means for James Harden:
As backup PG on the star studded Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden enjoyed unbelievable success, all while coming off the bench. Some players are simply betting suited riding pine, and then coming in for support. James Harden was one of those players. Harden not only excelled at this role, he embraced it wholeheartedly. He never whined about it, never said anything bad about Westbrook (Who he was coming off the bench for), and never questioned Coach Scott Brooks’ decision making. As a result, he was rewarded with a trip to the Finals and a nice Sixth Man of the Year trophy to put on the shelf next to his dust covered shaving kit. I can assure both the reader and James harden he has seen his best days.
Harden is going to spend the next four years on a lousy team in a city that is hardly oriented around basketball. Recently reports have surfaced has a desire to sign an extension Aside from Jeremy Lin, Houston has literally nothing going for it. Spending extensive time on a horrible team would be one thing if Harden grew up a Rockets fan. I have nothing but respect for a player that plays for the team they idolized in their youth, even if that team is awful. Harden in from LA. The Rockets went 34 and 32 last year, and have not seen the playoffs in three seasons. In short the only thing this means for Harden is playing for a mediocre team for an extra 5 mil. James Harden showed the fans an ugly truth by signing with the Rockets. Sometimes, Basketball is a business. Harden took money over winning. By doing so he put himself in a pretty unlikable category. Enjoy that extra 5 mil James. In the meantime, Kevin Martin will enjoy the playoffs.
What it means for The Oklahoma City Thunder:
You may or not be familiar with the phrase “shooting oneself in the foot”. The Thunder basically shot themselves in the foot several times with a gun that cost about 5 million dollars. It is completely baffling why analysts of all kinds are announcing the trade of Harden as some kind of shrewd business deal. It was horrible. Harden was part of that crucial nucleus to the team, and while he was being a diva for refusing to negotiate, he was by no means expendable to that team. The Rockets get one heck of a backcourt and what is the Thunder left with? Half the talent and facial hair of the previous backcourt. The trouble with Harden is his incredible contrast to starting PG Russell Westbrook. It is because of their contrast that the two complimented one another so well.
The Thunder had two incredible players, playing the same position, who were exact opposites of each other. For those of you who have not seen Russel Westbrook play, think of the body of Deron Williams, with the passing willingness of Carmelo Anthony, the scoring desire of Kobe Bryant, the speed of Rajon Rondo, the shooting ability of his teammate Durant, all with the surprising strength of Paul Pierce. Now, take that player, put a nuclear reactor inside of him, put jet fuel in his Gatorade, and attach it all to his trash talking ability on the court. Ladies and gentlemen, Russell Westbrook. Harden is quite possibly the biggest antonym to Westbrook’s game out there. Give him a few inches and pounds on Westbrook, the smoothness of Manu Ginobli, the pass-first mindset of Steve Nash, the non-selfishness of Kevin Garnett, complacent look of Tracy McGrady, and that spark off the bench feel that Jason Terry gave the Dallas Mavericks for so long. Viola, James Harden. James Harden only wants to get the ball to the guy who will score. Russell Westbrook wants to be the guy that can score. Westbrook wants to score so badly, he is often criticized for not being anything close to a true point guard.
This would be one thing if he was the only offensive presence on the Thunder, but when you have Kevin Durant, scoring is not really an issue for you. When Westbrook and Durant click, you have a seemingly endless storm of efficiency and offense. When they don’t, you have clunky ball movement, and ball-hoggery not seen since the time Kobe and Carmelo were in an All-Star game together. Basically, when the Thunder needed passing, they could get passing. When they needed dominant scoring, they could get dominant scoring. Don’t get me wrong. The Thunder are not without passing ability. Durant can dish them when he has to, as can both Martin and Lamb. Just the same, the loss of Harden might be too much for OKC to overcome if they are going to make any serious noise down the road.
What it Means for the Rockets:
This entire situation is winning for the rockets. Apparently, Houston is the league’s new dumping ground for guards everyone forgot about. Population: Harden and Lin. What makes people think Houston got the short end of the stick? I have no idea. If you don’t believe me, ask Harden’s ridiculous 40 plus point outbursts to start off the season. It’s unrealistic to start expecting this type of production from the bearded one night in and night out, but this was clearly a statement. If the league sleeps on James Harden, he will jump on that opportunity. Don’t get anything wrong here. Harden in not going to win MVP any time soon. Just the same, I think this underrated player has made Houston into an underrated team. Expect them to reemerge into the playoffs this year in the 7th or 8th spot, taking their first round matchup into a solid six games. Should they beat Miami, New York, OKC or Boston at any point in the season, get ready for hype city. To wrap things up, Houston got rid of some less than stellar players in exchange for what has potential to be a top 5 backcourt in the league. Harden and Lin won’t be bringing home any Larry O’Brien trophies any time soon, but they will restore some dignity to the Rockets franchise.
In short, and sans some sudden change in the leagues landscape, the Rockets won, The Thunder lost, and James Harden is somewhere in the middle. He has more money, and more fame, yet plays for a mediocre team. The Rockets got a lot better, and OKC got a little worse. Expect this to be a huge deal if one of the Thunder’s point-men goes down and/or if Harden plays a season anything like what he hinted at in these first few games.