The Oklahoma City Thunder just took a huge step backwards as a franchise today by trading James Harden to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and conditional picks.
The L.A. Lakers’ path just got much easier and much shorter, because it will no longer have to run through OKC.
They just dealt themselves a death blow this season, and the league’s salary cap has claimed another victim. The Thunder couldn’t afford to get deep into the luxury tax with the super max deal of Kevin Durant and the max deal of Westbrook, and hefty contract of Serge Ibaka—all still on the books. The result is that the Houston Rockets will extend Harden to a four-year $60 million deal.
Oklahoma City no longer has their own big three.
Losing Harden basically makes OKC’s main offense a two-man attack, which pales in comparison to the Big Three of Miami, or even the Big Four in L.A. In fact, OKC’s top shelf talent now fails to compare to Boston (Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce), Memphis (Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol), or even Denver’s eight-headed monster.
Kevin Martin is not a horrible player. But he is not anywhere near the talent level Harden is right now. Harden has the talent to be a No. 1 option on offense, but is a fine third option. Somewhere in a deep dynasty league, a Thabo Sefolosha owner has just opened a celebratory can of pop. Martin will average 15 to 17 points per game, and put up a similar line, but that upside, that talent, the things that Harden brought—they’re gone. Teams will not have to double team Kevin Martin.
The Thunder will still be an elite team, and Martin can still shoot a basketball, but they are no longer in the top three teams of the league that are ready to contend right now.
They are no longer on the plane of Miami and Los Angeles. In fact, if they are going to start comparing themselves to teams in L.A., they may have enough problems with L.A.’s other team now.
Harden turned down a four-year $52 million deal and instead threw away a chance at a championship for $8 million. There has to, however, be a certain appeal to Harden in being an alpha dog now, though, as he and Jeremy Lin are now the backcourt of the Rockets’ future. They have an abundance of other talent on the roster too, in Royce White, Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, Marcus Morris, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik. The Rockets may now make the seventh or eighth seed.
Yes, Houston just got a lot better.
But that doesn’t do much to soften the blow for NBA fans who were anticipating a Thunder – Lakers Western Conference Finals. Now the second best team in the West is wide open for the taking, and the Nuggets, Clippers, Mavericks, Spurs, Grizzlies and Timberwolves are all licking their chops.
Some may say I am underestimating the impact of Martin and giving Harden too much credit, but try to make the argument that the Thunder got better by making this trade and I’ll relent. As Matt Moore of CBS Sports tweeted (@HPbasketball): “People are talking about how this is a great trade for Presti. Getting 75 cents on the dollar IS great. YOU STILL DOWNGRADED A TEAM.”
That is the bottom line: The Thunder couldn’t afford to keep a great team together.
It’s not pleasant to see, and it is bad for basketball.