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Posted on October 28, 2012 | 6 Comments
Seemingly out of the blue came the news that Oklahoma traded James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and future pick considerations (first round picks from Mavericks and Raptors in 2013, and a second round pick from the Bobcats). This came on the heels of news of Harden turning down a 4 year, $52 million extension offer from the Thunder.
Now you have to respect Oklahoma GM, Sam Presti, for making this move, even if it may have immediately weakened one of the few contenders that had a realistic shot at dethroning the Miami Heat this June. Presti offered Harden a final contract offer and when Harden turned it down, he didn’t hesitate, as many GMs around the league have done. Orlando, Denver, and Toronto (on more than one occasion), among others, all went through unneeded drama and, in the process, made the franchise look bad. Presti went out and immediately accepted the best offer for Harden and moved the team forward.
For Oklahoma, losing Harden hurts, and there’s no getting around that. He was a young star on the cusp of coming into his own and might have eventually become Oklahoma’s second best player. And while Kevin Martin is a good scorer, he’s not the all around player Harden is and is a poor defensive player.
But if Presti felt he had to make the move, then I think he got a good deal. Martin will help replace some of Harden’s production immediately, and Jeremy Lamb has a chance of doing it in the future, but the most important pieces Oklahoma gets back are the two first round picks. The Raptors pick is a guaranteed lottery pick, and there’s a good chance Dallas’ will be as well. This move is pure Presti. He has been great at acquiring first round picks and even better at using them. And if Oklahoma can package the two picks together, they might be able to find a real replacement for Harden next June.
On the other hand, Harden may not have been the one the Thunder should have moved. Perkins might have been more expendable before Dwight Howard moved to the Lakers. Now they need a big, defensive center to battle Howard and Perkins, despite his struggles since leaving Boston, is still one of the best in the league, at that.
Ibaka might not become the star that Harden likely will, but his interior defense is far more important to a team wanting to win a Championship than Harden’s ability to score, especially with a player like Kevin Durant on the roster.
The player I think the Thunder should have moved is Russell Westbrook.
I was a fan of his when he came out of college, and he’s certainly turned into a star, but the fact is that he’s constantly struggled with his ability, or inability, to run a team. He makes poor decisions and I think he might be an impediment to the Thunder winning a Championship because of it. Add that to the fact that the Thunder will be paying him more than $75 million over the next five years and it’s easy to see why they might have traded the wrong guard. Still not convinced, I’m not the only one who has a problem with Westbrook…
So while I respect Presti for pulling the trigger like he did, and like what he got back for Harden, I can’t help but feel he traded the wrong player.
For Houston, this deal is exactly the type they have been collecting young assets like they have. Before the deal, Houston had an astounding 12 players on the team UNDER the age of 25, including three first round picks. They overpaid for both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and will probably have to do the same with Harden in order to keep him.
I really like Harden and think he’s a star about to come into his own, but I think Houston is in real danger of doing what the Atlanta Hawks did when they signed Joe Johnson. Atlanta was a good team that could never make it past the second round because they overpaid for a perennial All Star who simply wasn’t good enough to be a franchise player.
I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Harden ends up becoming an All Star, but he’s not enough to make Houston a contender, and if they sign him to a max contract this summer, Houston will have limited themselves with what they can do to improve the team.
In a lot of ways, what Houston did is similar to what the New Jersey Nets did when they traded for Deron Williams. Both teams gave up guaranteed lottery picks to acquire a star player that could end up leaving after one season. Houston, though, has more assets than the Nets did after their trade, but this deal might end up backfiring on Houston if Harden leaves (he’s a restricted free agent next summer).
For Harden, this move is a head scratcher. Harden has always seemed to be mature beyond his years (maybe it’s the beard) and the prospect of staying in a special situation like the Thunder have in order to make an extra amount of money he probably wouldn’t even notice (is there really that much difference between $52 million and $60 million?). It again reminds me of Joe Johnson going to the Hawks in order to make more money and be “the man”, instead of staying in Phoenix and possibly having something special. This might be a move Harden ends up regretting ten years from now.
Now, this post wouldn’t be complete without looking at it from the Raptors perspective. Could the Raptors have traded for Harden?
Not likely. They can’t trade a first round pick until the one they promised Houston is used (ironically, that’s the pick Oklahoma got for Harden), so they had no first rounder to offer, and I doubt Toronto had anything Oklahoma would have wanted (outside of Valanciunas- not on your life).
It does highlight the difference, between Sam Presti and Bryan Colangelo, though. Presti has managed to build the Thunder into the contender they are in large part to acquiring first round picks. Since Presti took over as GM of the then-Seattle Supersonics, he’s traded FOR 7 first round picks. In a couple of cases using the team’s cap space to take on longer contracts in exchange for a first rounder.
In one more season than Presti has been with the Thunder, Bryan Colangelo has acquired just one first round pick, and ended up trading it for a player, who he then turned into a second round pick.
Presti has not attempted to sign any expensive free agents, whereas Colangelo always seems to be manoeuvring for cap space in order to sign free agents.
Presti was definitely lucky in that he was able to draft Kevin Durant with his first pick, but he’s simply been the antithesis of Colangelo, and, not coincidentally, found far more success.
Perhaps Colangelo should rethink his strategy.
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