First of all, let me say that I love Harden as a player. He was a great fit for the Thunder coming off the bench, and his clutch scoring in the playoffs was key in getting the team to the Finals.
But teams always change to try to improve for the next season and for the long run, even teams that make it to the Finals.
The Thunder are already committed to paying huge contracts to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. If management wants to have money left to bring in other players in the future, they couldn’t give Harden the huge contact he wanted. By trading him now, they eliminate the chance of any drama with Harden over the contract during the season. They also reward Harden in a way, allowing him to get his huge contract with Houston.
In dealing Harden, along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward, they lose one big-time scorer, one great shooter and two bench players who weren’t going to have much of a chance to contribute in Oklahoma City.
In return, they get back a big-time scorer in Kevin Martin, a player with huge potential in Jeremy Lamb, and several draft picks that benefit the team in several ways.
Martin, who is entering his ninth season in the NBA, has averaged 18.4 points per game during his career. He is a 38% three-point shooter who can also drive to the rim. He can come off the bench and fill the role that Harden held so superbly. Perhaps most importantly, Martin’s contract expires after this season. If he fits in well, the team can afford to keep him. If he does not fit in well, the team can let him go and then have the flexibility to go out and bring in a free agent.
By playing his entire career with the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets, Martin has not received a great deal of national attention. He’ll get it this year with Oklahoma City, and he’ll get the chance to prove he can be a key part of contender.
Lamb, who is a rookie, showed enormous talent and potential in his freshman season at the University of Connecticut, and was key in the team’s run to a national championship.
UConn struggled in the 2011-2012 season, but that was due to a lot of different factors. This guy can play and he should fit in well with the Thunder, even if it takes him a little time. Management has a history of being smart in the draft, and if they like Lamb, I would trust their judgment on him.
Also in the trade, the Thunder picked up two first round picks and one second round pick. These picks can be key simply because it allows the team to bring in more young talent. Perhaps more importantly, though, it allows the team to bring in young players and sign them to relatively low rookie contracts, which will allow the team to go out and sign free agents if needed in the next few years.
Finally, trading Harden and the others will change the team’s rotation and could open up more minutes for rookie Perry Jones, who has looked very good in the preseason.
When the Thunder traded Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics a few years ago for Kendrick Perkins, it opened up minutes for Harden and allowed him to become a star. Let’s see how this latest trade affects the players on the bench. I’m betting it helps the Thunder this year and for year’s to come.