Earlier, we discussed the tough situation Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti may find himself in if the team couldn’t come to an agreement with reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden by the Oct 31 (Nov 1 here in Australia/NZ) deadline. Turns out, it may not have been that tough of a choice at all for Presti as he swiftly and decisively moved to swap out the restricted free agent for a haul including Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and two first round draft picks.
As we explained earlier, Harden was after a max-salary contract which would have potentially pushed Oklahoma City’s payroll to as high as $95 million. All along, the small-market club insisted that they were not willing to spend that much to keep their team together, and it turns out they weren’t bluffing.
For the Thunder, this trade gives them a scorer who is at least as good as Harden (and from a pure scoring standpoint, perhaps a marginal upgrade) for this season, as well as a promising rookie shooting guard who will be tipped to replace Harden for the long term. Martin is one of the few other shooting guards in the league who can provide the same efficient scoring as Harden (he’s topped 60% true shooting 5 times in his career) although they will undoubtedly miss Harden’s playmaking ability off the bench.
Of course, the Thunder get backup point guard Eric Maynor back this year so there may not be as pressing a need for that as may first have been assumed. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lamb is a highly regarded young player whose rights Oklahoma City control through to 2017, and he and the two draft picks the Thunder receive (via Dallas and Toronto, which is top-three protected in 2014, top-two protected in 2015 and top-one protected in 2016, although the Thunder will receive the Toronto pick this year if it’s somewhere between the 4-14 pick in 2013; it’s unknown whether Dallas’ pick is lottery protected) will provide the Thunder the ability to add cheap talent down the road.
For the Rockets, they receive the “star” player that they have long coveted (along with throw-ins Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook). There have been some who question whether Harden can be a true franchise player away from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but Harden is already one of the most efficient scorers in the league at just age 22, with room to improve. While his efficiency will no doubt go down from being “the guy”, this scribe is of the belief that he could become at the very least a “1(a)” type of option which a guy like say, Brandon Roy was to LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s pretty rare that a 22 year old can have the kind of playoff performances which he has already produced, and his statistics stack up very favourably with some of the top guards in the league today.
At any rate, the Rockets should be one of the more entertaining League Pass teams in the league this year.