By now unless you have been living underneath a rock for the past four days or so you have heard the news about the Oklahoma City Thunder breaking up their young, Olympian trio by shipping James Harden (along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward) to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and three 2013 draft picks (two 1st round picks and one second round selection).
On the surface this deal seems as if not only did the Thunder get the short end of the stick but that they also ruined their championship aspirations for this season and beyond. Both of those conclusions couldn’t be further from the truth once you take a look at the entire deal, entire situation and focus less on just the biggest name within the deal.
Grant it the Thunder have just lost the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but in this system and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook around Martin could easily win that award at the conclusion of this season. Think about this for a second, Martin has been a quality shooting guard in the NBA for seven seasons already and has averaged 17.1 points, 2.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game throughout his career. For the record Harden has averaged just 12.7 points, 2.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game in his three-year career which basically means by those numbers alone the Thunder received the better of the deal.
That’s just the beginning think of the financial impact that this deal has on the Thunder franchise; Harden wanted a max deal which would have been a four-year, $60 million contract extension that would have placed the organization in the luxury tax realm which is something that s small-market team simply can’t afford no matter how popular they may be. The Thunder offered Harden the most they could (4-yaes/$55.5 million) that wouldn’t place them in the land of luxury tax but Harden turned that deal down which basically means to me and anyone else that has a brain which is fully functional that the bearded one no longer wanted to come of the bench and play third fiddle behind Durant and Westbrook. By the way Martin will receive $12 million this season and then his contract will be removed from the OKC book’s which means they’ll have extra money next off-season.
Now let’s take a look at the fact that Jeremy Lamb could eventually morph into a new version of Harden next season or possibly before then. Lamb was the 12th overall selection in the 2012 Draft by the Rockets and averaged 17.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game during his sophomore and final season at the University of Connecticut which basically means that he can ball. His development will be a major part of this deal as well because moving forward if the Thunder decide not to re-sign Martin this off-season they will need someone to step in and fill the role of sixth man and two-guard who can score. If he pans out like Thunder GM Sam Presti is hoping then this deal could be even that much more lopsided in OKC’s favor.
Now take a look at the draft pick aspect; the Thunder have built this up and coming dynasty strictly through the draft and now they have three additional picks for the 2013 edition. If you arm draft guru Presti with two selections in the first round (one of the two should be a high pick due to the fact that it originally belonged to the Toronto Raptors and the second was from the Dallas Mavericks) and an early pick in the second round (from the Charlotte Bobcats) then he may just be able to select three more future Olympians with his eye for young talent.
Last look at what else the Thunder surrender in the trade; Aldrich, Cook and Hayward, to them that isn’t much at all which means they would do the deal 100 times over if provided the opportunity.Harden was given a five-year, $80 million contract from the Rockets and now will have the chance to lead a franchise as possibly their best player.
Once all things are considered in the deal and if Lamb pans out and the Thunder draft well like they always do then this trade could be one of the steals of the decade. First things first though Oklahoma City must have a another big season and reach the NBA Finals otherwise Presti will be questioned for making the move. I still believe they are the favorites out west to reach the Finals and possibly challenge the Miami Heat in a rematch of last year’s finals. Only time will tell how everything works out but the first time to see how the Thunder look sans Harden is Thursday night when they open up their season versus the San Antonio Spurs who they defeated in last season’s Western Conference Finals 4-2 in order to reach the NBA Finals.