In a stunning Saturday night deal, the Oklahoma City Thunder sent star reserve guard James Harden to the Houston Rockets for several players and draft picks after he declined their four-year, $55 million contract extension.
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all receiving $12 million and more contracts, it was becoming clear that the Thunder may not have enough to pay all of their stars and not suffer luxury tax problems. This trade, although it leaves them without their 2012 Sixth Man of the Year, helps them in the salary cap aspect. Instead of possibly losing him as a restricted free agent next offseason, the Thunder pulled off a deal with Houston and now has several extremely desirable assets.
In exchange for the former Arizona State star, Oklahoma City received scoring guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and second-round pick. Martin, who averaged 17.1 points last season, is a free agent next season, but he could become a valued offensive weapon for a team that just lost one of their best scorers. Lamb was a first-round draft pick in this season’s draft, but had shown flashes in the preseason thus far.
In addition to Harden, the Rockets will receive center Cole Aldrich, guard Daequan Cook and forward Lazar Hayward. Aldrich was a solid back-up center who didn’t provide much in the way of stats, but at 6’11” and 240 pounds, he took up space in the paint and had six fouls to give. Cook has been primarily used as a three-point specialist in his five NBA seasons, but Hayward has yet to find a niche in his first two seasons.
With the Pistons set to take on Houston in three days, this likely changes their strategy against the Rockets. In his lone game against Detroit last year, Martin had just 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and not much else statistically. The Rockets did win big, 97-80, however. Harden proved to be much more of a thorn in the team’s side, as he scored 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting with five three-pointers, as well as five rebounds and four assists.
This trade will show the NBA if Harden is truly a starting-caliber player or just a very solid complementary piece to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Much like his backcourt mate, Jeremy Lin, Harden will have plenty to prove once he gets to Houston.