Before the NFL games kick off on Sunday morning, sports fans will get a chance to play NBA armchair GM once they wake to the news that the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night. With the two sides not being able to reach a deal and the October 31 deadline drawing close, OKC decided to pull the trigger on a trade, one where they’ll pick up Houston guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick in the 2013 draft. Along with Harden, Houston acquires Thunder center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston.
The overwhelming question at the moment: shrewd move or too soon for the Thunder?
As a small market squad, the franchise and GM Sam Presti have always subscribed to running a tight financial ship that meant players either had to accept less than perceived potential market value in order to stay with the team. Look no further than the example set with one-time team captain Jeff Green. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have already signed for less to stick around. By dealing Harden now, the franchise avoids the “will he re-sign?” distraction that hovers around big name players and teams.
On the “too soon” side of things, the team was undoubtedly poised to make a run at not only the Western Conference title but the league championship. Trading Harden a few days before the season starts could potentially do much to shake up the chemistry around the squad’s young, talented core*. Why not put the deal on the shelf for the season, focus on making a run now then negotiate later?
For the long term, OKC looks to have gotten the better end of the deal on paper. Martin could be a valuable addition who can spread the floor from 3. Lamb’s a prospect with potential plus OKC ends up with first round picks for the draft, which is where they’ve had the most success over the years. However, Harden was an Olympian, Sixth Man of The Year and clearly loved not only by teammates but also by the city.
Fortunately, no one will be left to search for answers long as we’ll start seeing solid ones once the season kicks off on Tuesday.
* — Durant’s reaction, as seen on Twitter: “wow”