By Dennis Berry
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets last week it was a major shakeup in the Western Conference. It is a trade that affects the West not just this year, but in the future as well.
Harden was a very important piece of the defending Western Conference Champion, the Thunder. Last season he averaged 6.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on his way to winning the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year award. He did struggle in the finals against the Heat, but that is not the first time a young player has played poorly on the NBA’s biggest stage.
Still, that was a learning experience for the young Thunder. The Thunder had a great young core that was going to make them the next great team in NBA history. They have the best young scorer in Kevin Durant. They also have an explosive point guard in Russell Westbrook. They have a shot blocker and rebounder in Serge Ibaka as well. Then there was Harden, to make a group of players that grew together on the basketball court.
Then the Thunder took it apart right before the season started. Harden, along with Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich, were traded to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, which are two first-round picks, and a second-round pick. With these trades many believe that the Thunder’s chances for returning to the NBA Finals are gone.
The Thunder dropped below the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs as favorites to win the West this year. Right now the Spurs look like they are on pace to have another strong regular season. The Lakers are slow out of the gate. They lost their first three games before getting a win against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night. The Thunder have started the season at 1-2.
The Thunder are still tying to get their house in order following the trade. They have lost their best player off the bench. They added new players who are getting used to their new teammates.
Kevin Martin has averaged 18.4 points a game over his eight year and is used to being the main scoring option. Now he must adjust to being perhaps the third scoring option behind Durant and Westbrook. Jeremy Lamb was just getting used to the NBA and being in Houston; now he is starting over in Oklahoma City at the start of the regular season.
It is hard for Thunder fans to look at that when they see Harden going off like he has to start the season in Houston. He started off with 24 points, six rebounds, and five assists leading the Rockets to a win over Detroit. Then he followed that up with 45 points against the Toronto Raptors.
After many questioned if Harden was a player worthy of a max deal and could be “the man” on a team, Harden is working on putting those questions to rest. Teaming with Jeremy Lin in the backcourt gives Houston a young exciting backcourt that appears to fit together. Harden and Lin play off each other well. Harden can be the scoring threat and Lin can run the offense, but does not have to be the main scorer.
Meanwhile Thunder fans should be happy with what they got out of the deal. Along with a great scorer in Martin and a young talented wing player in Lamb, the draft pick acquired for Harden should become very good picks.
One first round pick is from Toronto, which should turn out to be a lottery pick. The other is from Dallas, which will probably be a mid first round pick. Those picks should be able to bring in more young talented players on a roster built with young stars. That will allow the Thunder to contend further in the future.
The initial shock of the trade came on a Saturday night right before the season was big. It was a deal that came down to money for the Thunder. They had already tied up themselves to Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka. The only way they could keep Harden was if they could agree on a deal for less than what Harden was worth. They could not.
So the Thunder moved Harden quickly. It was a move that allowed the team the most time to get used to their new teammates. Houston definantly wanted to make the move to bring in another big name to go with Lin.
This could be a trade that works well for both sides. Houston got a well known player and Oklahoma City was able to lose a big contract and get future draft picks.
Right now it appears both sides are winners.