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The Oklahoma City Thunder is A Different Team Without James Harden

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Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

A few months ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a trade that sent shooting guard James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and future draft pick considerations.

This move shocked the NBA nation. Even the Thunder’s star, Kevin Durant simply tweeted “wow” when he learned of the trade.

As of late, the Thunder have not looked as well as they once did. After losing three straight games, the Thunder have won their last two, but have not looked good doing it.

At one time, the Thunder looked to be the one team capable of dethroning the Miami Heat. The Thunder were young, fast, talented and deep. Having James Harden on the bench is what made the Thunder so great.

Now that Harden is wearing a Houston Rockets jersey on game days, the Thunder have to deal with a number of issues. These issues have become more apparent the farther away from the trade we get.

James Harden is more than capable of being a starter in the NBA, as he has proven in Houston. I would even argue that Harden is a superstar. Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb are not superstars. They are both great players, and I mean no disrespect to them, but they are not the same caliber of players that Harden is.

Losing Harden forces the Thunder to keep Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the floor for longer than they may be used to playing. Pulling Durant or Westbrook for Harden wasn’t as big of a deal, since Harden provided a welcome spark off of the bench. Now, with Martin coming off of the bench, the Thunder do not receive the spark that Harden provided.

Not only is the team physically affected by not being able to keep the starters as fresh as they once were, but the team is also clearly affected emotionally as well. It was clear from looking at the way Durant, Harden and Westbrook interacted together that the three were all friends. They enjoyed each other’s company and they played well together.

When the trade happened, it broke up the gang. It was obviously a shock to Kevin Durant based off of his tweet when it happened and I don’t think he has adjusted to the change yet. Also of note, is the frustration displayed by Durant during his recent games. Durant has never really been a fiery, aggressive player, but since the trade, he has picked up an increasing number of technical fouls. He is being forced to do things that he didn’t have to do when Harden was on the team, and it is getting to him.

The Thunder made a mistake by trading Harden, and it’s starting to appear as though they aren’t the force they once were in the league.

Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeAtkinsonRS

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