After failing to reach an agreement on a contract extension, the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to trade James Harden before he became an unrestricted free agent. Obviously, the Thunder would have like to hold on to the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year from last season, but it was not in the cards. But was it really the worst thing that could have happened? Hardly, because the trade means the Thunder got something in exchange for the 23 year-old guard and some may say the Thunder actually got the best part of the deal.
OKC acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb in the trade, along with two first round draft picks and a second round pick. Martin averaged more than 17 points per game last season, Lamb is coming off a NCAA National Championship win with UConn in 2011 and averaged 20 points per game in Summer League and the future value of the picks is apparent. So, when you add all that up, it seems like the Thunder, the defending Western Conference Champions, could be even better, if not this season, then very in the near future. If we are talking long term, then I think we can call this an overall victory for Oklahoma City and its fans.
The Rockets, however, are a team that is not in the same position. After enduring some tumultuous years, they are ready and willing to do what it takes to win right now. They have shown this by paying big money for Jeremy Lin and now Harden. The trade will obviously help them contend in the West this season and beyond, as Lin and Harden are both young, but there’s no doubt that they gave up plenty of potential with Lamb and the picks.
Possibly the biggest winner in all of this though is Harden himself. He went from the Sixth Man of the Year to a starting position on a team with major upside and playoff potential this season. He will now be one of the go-to guys in Houston and has plenty of good teammates to play with. And best of all for Harden, he will get the contract he wanted, money and length wise.
The trade may hurt the Thunder’s chances a bit this season to repeat as West champs, but remember that Harden was the sixth man, a position that Lamb or Martin may be able to fill almost as well. There’s no question that the Thunder are a major contender once again, so don’t shy away from betting in favor of them too much.
The biggest change for bettors now is that the Rockets are suddenly a lucrative option. They are a team whose playoff odds are going up in a hurry, so it may be time to jump on the bandwagon. However, they did lose some depth, so if Lin or Harden goes down with an injury, be sure to jump back off.
Overall, the Harden deal appears to be a true win-win for all parties involved, which is a real rarity in sports. Of course, over the long haul we will see how the real beneficiary is as the season plays out.