Since writing my power rankings where I raved about the Thunder’s ability to sustain its core, they reached a decision to deal James Harden to the Rockets.
What we should not forget is that Harden was in a contract year and the Thunder didn’t have the money available to reward him for his level of play after they locked up Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to long-term deals.
Even with this being the case, Harden was so critical to what the Thunder achieved that many felt a new contract would eventually be agreed.
At the very least, it seemed to be a situation that would play out over the course of the season in order to allow the Thunder to keep pace with the league’s elite.
The question that the Thunder had to consider was if trading their 6th man (i.e. a bench player) affects their title aspirations? In the short term, they were able to get fairly talented players in the form of Kevin Martin and rookie (number 12 pick overall) Jeremy Lamb.
So while their bench seems to have strengthened, the realisation is they are losing a genuine top 30 talent and is undoubtedly one of the most gifted shooting guards in the league.
The true value in this deal for the Thunder comes in the form of the two first-round draft picks and one second-round pick that the Rockets also sent them in exchange for Harden.
Whether they choose to keep hold of these picks or they decide to trade them, the Thunder should be well set for a long run of success.
This doesn’t mean they are the only winners from this deal. The Rockets, Jeremy Lin and James Harden are also major beneficiaries.
For the Rockets, they have acquired a player that GM Daryl Morey calls “foundational” in the sense that they have obtained a big name to complement point guard, Jeremy Lin, both of which they could now build around.
As for Lin, he now has someone in the line-up, along with Ömer Aşık, who can share some of the burden for this team. It also means that James Harden gets upgraded from bench player for the Thunder to starter for the Rockets, rewarding him with the game time that his ability merits.
The Rockets will also provide him with the opportunity to sign a new deal with the financial rewards he has earned during his time in the NBA.
If we take a look at the bigger picture, through this deal the Rockets have dramatically improved their chances this season as they have also received Cole Aldrich, Dequan Cook and Lazar Hayward as part of this deal.
Most of all, they have a considerable amount of cap space now available if they want to improve this team further. The only problem is that by trading away so many picks, they have taken a gamble on future success based on this team gelling this season.
Alternatively, the Thunder seemed to have hedged their position well and at most, their chances for this season has only taken a slight dent, dependent on how well Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb can get up to speed with the rest of the team.
One thing is for sure though, both sets of fans are sure to be thrilled with their teams moves with the start of the season now imminent.
image: © Keith Allison