By Brandon Niles Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
Sometimes it’s nice to have a little time to reflect on the major things that happen in sports. Often, we react so strongly and swiftly to breaking news we forget to take a step back and actually witness the results as they unfold.
On Saturday, Oct. 27, the Oklahoma City Thunder made huge headlines across the NBA by trading reigning 6th Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets.
Harden, a shooting guard in his fourth year in the league, was phenomenal last season. He’s put up big numbers and developed an uncanny ability to get to the rim on a consistent basis. His unselfish attitude coming off the bench helped the Thunder create mismatches, as he was often facing second string players of opposing teams. Harden could have demanded starter minutes, but he chose to buy into the team chemistry and almost won a ring because of it.
With Harden’s contract expiring at the end of this season, the Thunder knew that a decision would need to be made. Oklahoma City had already invested a great deal of money in superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and could not afford the kind of money that Harden would command on the open market.
While most experts felt the Thunder would ride out the season and deal with his contract when the time came, Houston swooped in and made an offer. The result was arguably the most surprising trade since the Deron Williams trade (from the Jazz to the Nets) in 2011.
The Thunder traded Harden at his peak value, while the Rockets gave up starter Kevin Martin, lottery pick rookie Jeremy Lamb, and a pair of 2013 first round draft picks to the Thunder. They promptly signed him to a max contract.
Now we have had time to reflect on this trade and see the early returns. Kevin Martin is playing well for the Thunder, and Harden has been a superstar for the Houston Rockets, dominating games and, along with Jeremy Lin, giving Houston one of the most exciting backcourts in the NBA.
While Harden’s departure is considered a loss for the Thunder by many fans and experts, I see this trade as a win-win for the two teams. Harden was stifled as a secondary option in Oklahoma City. As a part of the Rockets he’s reaching his full potential and a level of productivity that was unattainable while sharing the rock with Durant and Westbrook. Additionally, the Rockets received Cole Aldrich and a couple other players in the deal, and Aldrich has quietly contributed in Houston on both ends of the floor.
The Thunder meanwhile have Martin to fill the gap Harden left, but also have a young player with tremendous potential in the rookie Lamb, and they will have two additional first round picks in the 2013 draft. Instead of being strapped for cash for the next several years paying Harden, the team will be paying three rookies instead. It’s a risk, but I believe it’s a calculated and savvy one.
This was a rare situation in sports today: a huge trade involving a superstar player, taking most fans by surprise and ultimately being a positive move for both teams involved. This was good for the fans and great for the league, as Harden’s arrival in Houston creates another interesting team to watch.
If Harden continues to play as well as he has, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a harrowing playoff series between these two teams in the not-too-distant future.