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Harden headed South, and so is OKC’s title chances.

October 28, 2012

After Thunder GM Sam Presti surprisingly traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets, everyone’s reaction could be summed up by Kevin Durant’s tweet last night, “Wow.”  Most people knew Harden and the Thunder wouldn’t agree to an extension this season, but no one expected the Thunder to pull the trigger this early.  With the new look Lakers looking to get back to the Finals, why would they sacrifice their greatest advantage… their continuity?  If you were going to trade Harden, why not wait until the end of the season and give this group 1 more shot.  This team, lead by the Durant/Westbrook/Harden trio, was only 3 wins away from an NBA championship last year.

Officially this multi-player deal sent James Harden,  C Cole Aldrich, F Daequan Cook, and F Lazar Hayward to the Rockets, while the Thunder received G Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 1st round picks, and a 2nd round pick.   Harden was the de facto PG for the Thunder and stabilized the offense.  Kevin Martin is a solid guard, capable of scoring in bunches.  Now OKC has 2 shoot 1st combo guards in Martin and Westbrook.  Who’s going to get KD the ball?  Martin is also a liability on defense, and has never played for a championship contender.  Will Martin get acclimated to the team in time for another playoff run?

Jeremy Lamb has a lot of potential.  I think after a few years the UConn product will become a solid NBA player.  With the NBA season a few days away the Thunder don’t need potential,  they need production.  I don’t think Lamb is a player the Thunder can count on to come in and make an immediate impact.

Speaking of potential… the Thunder can make something of these 3 draft picks.  They will eventually need to find mobile big men that cater to their style of play.  Kendrick Perkins was useless in the Finals against the Heat due to his lack of mobility and shooting touch.  A more traditional PG/good perimeter shooter won’t hurt either now that Harden is gone.

Long term, I think this trade will work in the Thunder’s favor.  They have an intriguing prospect in Lamb and the front office does a great job of judging talent, so I think they will maximize the potential of the 3 draft picks they received.  That being said, the chances of OKC returning to the Finals aren’t good without Harden.  He was the glue that fit the Thunder system together.  Despite being MIA during the Finals, Harden is a dynamic playmaker that can create for himself and others.  The Thunder will surely miss him when facing the likes of LA and San Antonio in the playoffs.  Don’t get me wrong, any team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a contender.  PG Eric Maynor is coming back from injury and rookie Perry Jones III has looked good during the preseason.   However, after this trade they are no longer the clear cut favorites to win the West.  With the regular season starting on Tuesday, the Thunder will have some catching up to do…

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