Remember the number 4.5 million. That is the amount of money that James Harden asked for during his negotiations with the Oklahoma Thunder during contract negotiations throughout the majority of the off season. What resulted wasn’t as shocking as many people expected however that will not change the fact that this move between the Thunder and Houston Rockets has the potential to greatly affect the outcome of not only this season but those to come.
It was announced Sunday afternoon that the Thunder moved Harden to the Rockets in a trade that shuffled a few different players between the teams. The Thunder have received veteran Kevin Martin, rookie prospect Jeremy Lamb, along with two first round draft picks and a second round pick. The Rockets obtained Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward. Harden, Martin and Lamb are the biggest names involved in this trade but the full implications will be understood as the season unfolds in more ways than one.
The dynamic that had served the Thunder so well between their three star players in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden was immediately affected. Many experts were looking at these three to power the Thunder to last year’s championship; however when they were unable to do so, the anticipation changed that perhaps this would be the year they would hoist a title together. Harden’s play dropped off in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat and when the team signed Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka to long term deals, the writing was apparently on the wall when it came to Harden’s contract situation. When the move was announced Durant’s one word response of “Wow” that was broadcast across Twitter raised the question of if he knew what was coming down the pipe.
This was more of a move to help the Thunder maintain a “long term” level of success rather than pay the penalty through the luxury tax by signing Harden.
“Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers,” said Thunder GM Sam Presti through an official statement. “”We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin’s caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team.”
It will be interesting to see how both Martin and Lamb are used to fill the void that Harden brought to the second team which saw him earn the Sixth Man of the Year award. Martin has spent most of his time toiling away on subpar teams so he has to answer a large call and perform at a high level while on the court against the second units of opposing teams. Another contribution that Harden brought to the Thunder was his ability to step in as the point guard when on the court with both Westbrook and Durant. This is a role that Martin has not had to play in his career so he has to be able to compete in that position as well. That goes with saying if he will be able to take the position without Lamb taking it first.
In Houston, Harden will have to step into the starting role which that may have an effect on his ability to produce when competing against the starting rosters which include a variety of standout players in the Western Conference. We’ve seen players who were used to power the second unit struggle when asked to play as starters in the past and Harden may become the next name who sees the same result.
The Oklahoma Thunder were expected to end the 2012-2013 season as one of the top three, if not the best, team in the Western Conference. With James Harden being traded to the Houston Rockets this may be one of the key moves that changes the whole complexion of the season and the team’s overall success in years to come.