The state of Oklahoma was sent into a state of shock when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets on Oct. 27. Kevin Durant put it best when he simply tweeted the word “Wow.”
However, when breaking down what happened it all makes sense and should be best for the Thunder as a team. 12 hours later, Durant came back to Twitter and wished his traded teammates good luck, while also welcoming Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb to Oklahoma City.
That is because the Thunder had no choice but to trade James Harden, and by doing it now both sides can move forward instead of waiting till later in the season.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka all took discounted pay so the Thunder could keep the core of their team together. They knew that, with the new salary cap in place, if they accepted maximum contracts, the Thunder would not be able to hold on to this core unit and could only keep one or two star players.
If that happened, the Thunder would drop back to the middle of the pack.
James Harden was offered a four-year deal worth a reported $55 million. However, he rejected this offer and wanted the maximum deal, four-years for $60 million. After four other Thunder starters accepted discounted deals to remain a title contender, Harden wanted the maximum.
There is no reason for this unless Harden was making a point. Maybe the defending sixth man of the year wanted to be a starter. Maybe all the talk about wanting to do everything he could to stay in Oklahoma was only talk. He was an Olympian and an All-Pro. Maybe he felt he should be a starter, and if he wasn’t, he could at least make the league maximum. If Oklahoma City caved in and paid him the max, it would be an insult to Durant and Westbrook and the other players who accepted the discount rates.
That means if the Thunder couldn’t reach a deal, they had three options. The first was to give him the maximum contract, and that is not what Thunder basketball is all about. The second would be to play with him and then lose him to free agency next season, when other teams offered him the maximum. That would mean the Thunder would get nothing in return for the loss of a key player.
The third option was to trade him, and get what they could for him. It was the best option and Sam Presti jumped all over it.
Oklahoma City gave up James Harden, the best sixth man in the NBA. Oklahoma City gave up their backup center Cole Aldrich, which doesn’t hurt since they are using Ibaka more as a center, and with Perry Jones III at power forward, that is a perfect option. They lost Daequan Cook, which hurts because he was a 3-point gunner, and they will need to replace that weapon. They lost Lazar Hayward, which doesn’t hurt the Thunder at all.
The Thunder picked up Kevin Martin, who will step into Harden’s sixth man role right off the bat. He has averaged 18.4 points-per-game over his career and is a .443 shooter. They picked up Jeremy Lamb, a rookie who was a star for the UConn Huskies and was one of the keys to their 2011 national championship team. Honestly, he could be the future in OKC at Harden’s old role.
Oklahoma City will almost certainly drop Martin after the season ends, and he will not count towards the new cap. Lamb is a much cheaper alternative than Harden was, and without the money Harden was asking for, Oklahoma City will have a lot more breathing room next season when that cap takes effect. Finally, Oklahoma City now has three first round draft picks and two second round picks next season.
James Harden is a fan favorite and the team will miss him, both for his personality and his playing skills. However, the Thunder are a better team after trading him to Houston. If Harden had gotten what he asked for, it would have been an insult to his teammates who put the team first. With the Thunder’s plan, they can become similar to the Miami Heat, a team with players who want to win as a team. If they had caved in, they would have been more like the New York Knicks.
It will be tough to watch The Beard playing for a new team, but this is the best thing Oklahoma City could have done.
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