Sorting out the James Harden trade.

james-harden-houston-rockets

Gotta feel for the Thunder on this one.

Tough spot to be in. You’ve got a fledgling superstar in the last year of his contract who isn’t gonna take anything less than top dollar, an owner who has you on a strict budget and two superstars who are counting on you to do what it takes to keep their buddy in the fold.

Whatever you wanna say about Sam Presti, he ain’t sentimental. If Harden didn’t want to take 5 million less than the maximum deal to play alongside two superstars and compete for championships, Presti was gonna get on bended knee and try to change his mind. Nothing like that at all. Nope, he was gonna get on the phone and swing the best deal he could as soon as possible and be done with this mess. No sense in dragging it out til the deadline. Fuck keeping the guy and enduring season long distractions. Fix it the best you can and keep it moving.

Now, I can argue that the contract they Gave Kendrick Perkins two years ago painted them into a corner here, but what’s done is done. Hindsight tells us Perk isn’t worth close to what they paid him, especially in the NBA’s new “small ball” culture, but I’m pretty sure they were stuck with him for all intents and purposes. Financially, using the Amnesty clause on Perkins was simply out of the question, and finding a taker for his contract in the new Luxury Tax era seems equally unrealistic. Like i said though, what’s done is done. Presti’s job was to find a way to keep this team intact or move on and do the best he could.

Things is, for a team that appeared to be only a little experience shy of winning a world title, this might have set them back on their bottom line. Harden was a unique talent, a two guard who can score on his own and handle running the offense, the same kind of secret weapon Lamar Odom was for years in Los Angeles: a super talent who could come off the bench and change the complexion of the game. From where I’m sitting, Harden’s game feels alot like paul Pierce’s. A savvy, heady player who knows his limitations and can be deadly from his spots. An earthbound star who will mature with age. Yeah, I know the guy looked bodysnatched in the last few games of the Finals, but lets not pretend to know what that means for his entire NBA future. Some guys gotta take their lumps before they figure it out.

Then there’s Kevin Martin.

Martin scored 24 points per game for the Rockets two years ago. That’s alot of points. Still, Morey decided shortly after trading for Martin at the 2010 deadline that he wasn’t the superstar player Morey has been desperately been seeking for years now. Martin is alot of things. Bonafide scorer. One dimensional. Injury prone. Unhappy in Houston.

Most importantly, he was expendable in Morey’s mind, especially since he was shoe-in to leave as a Free agent at season’s end.

As far as how he’ll fit in Oklahoma, he’ll either excel as a bench gunner or bristle at his secondary role and either pout his way out of Oklahoma or suffer another injuries in a career filled with them. Remember now, this is the NBA, not a fantasy team. If martin was unhappy in Houston with as the main scoring option, how is he gonna feel about being third or fourth in the pecking order?

Look, I respect the hell out of Sam Presti. I’ve got alot of faith in the idea that he knows what he’s doing here. Getting a package of Martin, Jeremy Lamb (a player with positively intriguing skills) and two first round picks for the outgoing Harden is not by any means a bad deal. In fact, it’s plenty. Thing is, there’s a bottom line here, and for the Thunder it’s championships. Should the goal of this trade be to keep them right where they were last year or should it be done with regard to future considerations.

Fact is, this trade seems like a little of both when it needed to be one or the other.

To me, Kevin Martin has no fucking hope of replicating what harden brought to OKC. None. Assuming he can stay healthy and humble enough to come off the bench and fill it up, he’s still clueless on defense and simply not versatile at all. He scores, and that’s all he does. Even if Eric Maynor returns healthy this year and provides steady point guard play off the bench, this team will lack the versatility and offensive potency it had last year. That’s just how i see it.

In a few years we’ll be able to look back and discern whether or not a financial decision cost the Thunder the chance at championships. At this point, I’m gonna gess that it has and what can I tell you, that sucks.

Daryl Morey, swallowing the proverbial Canary.

The Rockets are another story. While Morey was blowing his team up to make a run at Dwight Howard last summer, he had a plan B all along. Well, say hello to it. He knew that even if he didn’t get Dwight or a similarly big fish, he’d be poised to throw his truckload of young assets and draft picks at any team who might be ready and willing to dump a player of anything close to superstar caliber. For now, Morey has wagered nothing more than a few 1st round picks and Jeremy Lamb on the idea that harden can be that guy. Even if he turns out not to be, Morey can go back to the drawing board in a few years and try it all over again. But, if Harden does develop into a franchise cornerstone in the Brandon Roy or Paul Pierce mode, he will have landed him for a fraction of what he would have given up for Howard/

As of last week, the Rockets had the absolute lowest payroll in the NBA. Even after they max out Harden at the end of this season, even when the “poison pill” contracts kick in after 2014, they’ll have a roster of Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and about a half-dozen low contract youngsters squared away and still have some cap to spare. With a little clever maneuvering, the Rockets might be able to add one more major piece without touching the new luxury tax. If any of these young ‘uns hit big, this team could be set to burn for quite some time.

Most of what happens from here is an open question. All we really know at this point is that Morey has gotten what he covets for alot less than he would have been willing to pay. Just like that, the rockets now have a defined direction to head in and even better than that, some hope for the future where none really existed. After years of waiting, Morey found a move he liked and pounced.

So what happened here? A young star decided being the leader of his own team and an extra million dollars was more important than being the third stooge on a perennial contender. The head of one team got a what he thinks is a franchise player after years of longing for one. The head of another cut bait on a guy who didn’t want to be there (or meet their financial bottom line) and sold him for the best offer he could find, at least in his mind.

Who wins? I think Houston does, but that might not mean OKC loses, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, what I think ain’t really gonna matter until June. Ask me again then.

-JH

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