Well, that was unexpected.
The Thunder just traded James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Lazar Haywood and Daequan Cook to the Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks, and a second round pick.
The deal was essentially prompted by the Thunder realizing they would not be able to retain Harden without going into the luxury tax, which they were unwilling to do. Houston has already said they will sign Harden to the max contract extension he is seeking.
This signals the end of a few things for both teams. Harden is the reigning sixth man of the year and one of Sam Presti's draft gems. Oklahoma selected Harden ahead of Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry, partially under protest from Russell Westbrook, who did not want to give up being a point guard. Westbrook's resolve to that will be truly tested now for the first time; although he has been a stellar point guard the past couple years, the Thunder still relied on Harden to make the sensible facilitating decisions when Westbrook started getting scorer's tunnel vision.
The Thunder also continue to add to their draft stock. The Western Conference champs just made off with larceny in the last draft when Perry Jones fell to them at the end of the first round. Sam Presti has proven himself a drafting genius, using the team's picks to fill out the roster with solid talent at a low cost, and now he has that many more picks to work with. Jeremy Lamb in particular could prove to be a deadly force with the Thunder. He's not as versatile as Harden, but he's a good...potentially great....shooter who can still put the ball on the floor and will rebound and defend his position.
For the Rockets, this basically signals that they've given up on the Dwight Howard chase. Martin and those draft picks were their assets for trade, and now they're gone. But they desperately needed scoring from a guy who could create his own shot, and they got one. Harden will step in immediately as the Rockets' best player and #1 option on offense, and he and Jeremy Lin could prove to be one of the better backcourt tandems in the league.
Still, it's hard to overstate how well Oklahoma did in this. Yes, they could have paid to keep Harden. But knowing that they would not, it's hard to see them making a better deal than this. It remains to be seen in Martin will actually get any meaningful burn, but either way, he's an expiring contract, which means instead of adding to their financial burden by signing Harden, they'll be subtracting from it by letting Martin go. And to replace Harden, they now have Jeremy Lamb, who is the kind of sensible, unheralded talent the Thunder have a knack for developing into big impact players. It's not hard to see him completely replacing Harden's production in a couple years, and as a rookie contract, he'd be doing it at a fraction of the cost.
I'm interested to see how this goes. Harden is a guy I think has been overshadowed in Oklahoma, despite his stellar play. He has a chance to prove himself as a legitimate superstar now, which I think he will. And Lamb, I felt, was this year's most underrated and overlooked draft prospect. They guy can really play, and there's really no better situation for him to be in than this one. I think he's going to make a lot of teams regret letting him fall to #12.
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