by A.J. Coltrane
Unable to work out an extension with James Harden the Oklahoma City Thunder traded the Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, breaking up the young core of the Western Conference champions.
The Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick in the surprising deal that was completed Saturday night. Oklahoma City also sent center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston.
Functionally it breaks down to Harden for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and a couple of mid-first-round draft picks. The draft picks could be expected to return Vladimir Radmanovic level talent, or be flipped again for other assets.
Good or bad move for Oklahoma City?
Adande: Bad move. It’s not that Harden is the critical element to the Thunder’s success. (In their only NBA Finals victory against the Heat, he scored just five points.) But the familiarity this team had built was a big part of its identity. They were comfortable. They knew exactly what this group could do. Now they enter the unknown — and that includes the career of the promising Jeremy Lamb. Potential means you haven’t done anything.
Gutierrez: Good move. Kevin Martin might not be able to play point the way Harden did, but he’ll be just as aggressive a scorer when needed. Martin also has never played on a team this good. In the short term, it shouldn’t hurt their title chances. If Lamb or the draft picks work out, it could mean even better things down the road.
Haberstroh: Definitely a bad move for the short term, and potentially a good move for the long term. There’s just no two ways about it: The Thunder just lost an Olympian and got very little in return for this season. Kevin Martin is a brittle, one-dimensional player who might be the worst defender at his position. This is about a small-market team seeking future flexibility. Remember, the Lakers earn $250 million a year off their TV deal, but the Thunder make only about $15 million from theirs. Presti has to play a different game, thanks to the harsher CBA that was supposed to help his cause.
Stein: Normally I have nothing but praise for the most decisive of teams — and perhaps Presti will ultimately be proven to be a visionary for moving Harden out faster than anyone imagined — but it’s way too soon to throw out words like good. The Thunder undeniably got a lot here. Two future first-round picks, 2012 lottery pick Jeremy Lamb and an accomplished scorer in Kevin Martin is a legit haul. But the Thunder also just broke up a trio of All-Star-caliber kiddies that truly loved playing together. They had the option of playing this season out and then dealing with everything in July had they wished. That likely would have meant matching a max offer to Harden in restricted free agency and quite possibly waiving the likes of Kendrick Perkins via the amnesty clause, but isn’t that better than telling Durant and Westbrook that Harden is gonzo mere hours before opening night?
Verrier: Bad move. If the mandate was to avoid the new CBA’s more draconian luxury tax at all costs, kudos to Sam Presti for his guts and for positioning his club to be in the title picture long-term. But I don’t know how OKC can rip a piece away from a young core that was three wins away from a title — five days from its opener, no less. Decent return, but why take the risk?
On Harden: I’ve never been as in love with Harden as most of the media. I think he played as well as he did in college, and thus far in the pros, mostly on guile and “old guy moves”. He’s not an elite athlete. He mostly creates his shot through misdirection against second tier opposition. I think that’s why he mostly disappeared against the Heat during the playoffs — the Heat had great athletes who knew what they were doing, and it left Harden “without anything to say”. In short, I don’t think Harden is a cornerstone guy, but he’s going to get paid like he is because that’s how the league works. Calling him “A Quarter” is being generous, though it makes the title of this blog post work.
On Martin: Gunner without a conscience. Terrible defender. All the stuff mentioned above. Rental. I don’t think the Thunder are good enough everywhere on defense to cover up his weaknesses. Think Ricky Pierce, minus the divisive personality.
On Lamb: I really liked Lamb in college. He’s a long shooting guard with lots of potential. I think the Thunder are hoping that he can take Thabo Sefolosha’s minutes, like real soon. Lamb took a backseat to Kemba Walker in college, and I’m not sure he can be assertive enough to have a big impact at the NBA level.
In summary: The issue is that the Thunder are counting on Lamb to get good, fast, but he’s only 20 years old. Alternately they’re hoping to get lucky with one of the draft picks. They spent their money on Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Perkins and unless Ibaka figures out a way to contribute on offense the Thunder will likely come up short year after year.
Shortly after the trade Kevin Durant offered a one word tweet: “Wow”.
Durant is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.