Did Houston or Oklahoma win from the Harden trade?

Kurt Sorensen Roar Guru

By Kurt Sorensen, Kurt Sorensen is a Roar Guru

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    When Oklahoma City Thunder announced in October that they were trading away their celebrated sixth man and cult hero James Harden more than a few eyebrows, and dare I say beards, were raised.

    After all, ‘fear the beard’ became one of the monikers for Oklahoma’s run to the 2012 NBA Finals.

    Throughout last season Harden grew into a formidable scorer and facilitator that could be relied upon to create not only for himself but for others, especially those in the Thunder’s second unit.

    His cult status was born out of a combination of this searingly effective talent and a bountiful beard, one that promised to keep Oklahoma’s novelty facial hair sellers employed for years.

    However there had been rumblings from as early as 2010 that the Thunder were approaching their own version of the fiscal cliff.

    Harden and fast-improving big man Serge Ibaka were both coming up for contract renewals and it was correctly speculated that the Thunder would be unable to keep both on their already bulging payroll.

    Indeed Harden would go on to have the kind of season that guarantees max contracts while Ibaka would also put in a solid case for a similarly ludicrous amount of cash. Who would be the one to go?

    Many observers, including this writer, opined that the most obvious and slightly less painful decision would be to keep Harden and move Ibaka on.

    I for one had no thoughts of Harden leaving the Thunder; there just seemed no sense in such a move.

    Yes, Ibaka has proven elite defensive skills and an improving and evolving offensive skill set.

    Yes, Ibaka is the kind of big man that many GMs would sell their first born for.

    But Harden was something special. An out-and-out offensive assassin that has the talent to lead most other teams in the NBA, but was being used with deadly effect coming off the bench behind fellow offensive killers in Durant and Westbrook.

    In fact I even believed that the Thunder may choose to offload Russell Westbrook in order to keep both Harden and Ibaka, and make a play for a competent free-agent point guard that could play the role of a pass first, pass second facilitator to Harden and Durant.

    All of us that thought any of these thoughts were wrong. But are we still right?

    Harden did end up being traded in a ‘blockbuster’ move to the Houston Rockets that included the very good Kevin Martin landing in Thunder land to take on the scoring responsibilities vacated by the vetted bearded one.

    Ibaka was re-signed to a beard-shakingly large contract and many of us scratched our facial hair with confusion.

    Harden was on his way to Houston riding a max deal that would see him pair up with Jeremy Lin and take on a starting role at the two point.

    For Harden it seemed like a positive move, what with a max deal and a starting role that will give him a huge amount of scoring responsibility. The beard could indeed work on being feared from the outset.

    Sam Presti, the GM in Oklahoma, could have been forgiven for jumping at bearded shadows as the 2012/13 season got underway.

    Harden exploded out of the blocks and after three efforts with the Rockets was averaging the better part of 30 points and seemingly making the trade a compelling contender for Presti’s first major misstep as Thunder GM.

    But it always amazes how quickly the NBA balances itself.

    Harden cooled off and his combination with Lin began to slow down. Unfortunately for Jeremy, the sanity in his game had returned and it was his opponents doing the certifying and he was finding it harder to make those Linsane moments stick.

    Meanwhile, back in Thunder land, Harden’s less-hairy replacement Kevin Martin was quietly providing excellent scoring options off the bench for Oklahoma, all the while watching Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka continue to make a case for a talent cap in the NBA.

    The Thunder have been on a roll ever since (17-4 at last check) and seem to have settled nicely into the post-beard fearing era.

    Yet while Houston has been on a slide of late (for which the effect of the tragic circumstances surrounding coach Kevin McHale’s absence can not be overstated), it seems as though Harden and the Rockets may still come up smelling roses.

    Harden has himself an $80 million contract as a starting scoring guard on the youngest team in the NBA, while the Rockets have a wonderfully dynamic team leader who can be built around for years to come.

    So it seems I, like many others, may be wrong on all counts. The James Harden trade looks like it will go down as one of those rarest of NBA beasts: a trade where all parties come out the other end satisfied.

    The recent smiles on the faces of Thunder fans and Houston novelty beard sellers will attest to that.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • December 12th 2012 @ 12:53am
      ThelmaWrites said | December 12th 2012 @ 12:53am | ! Report

      Tonight’s “Fantasy Insider Basketball” rated Harden the No 1 Two-Guard of the NBA this week.

    • December 12th 2012 @ 8:09am
      mushi said | December 12th 2012 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      But then Ibaka is still ranked higher than him thanks to close to 60% shooting and block rate that means you can hunt after stretch rebounding 4s and 5s.

      thunder made the choice that it makes more sense to pay a point, a wing, and a big than two wings and a point. In a vacuum that kind of makes more sense.

      My reservations were that Ibaka wasn’t actually that good of a big man sure he blocked shots but he wasn’t actually a good defender. And his offence was predicated on an average making mid range jumpers. but his D has stepped up and he’s hitting 55% on those jumpers now making him a lethal third option.

      Plus they signed him at a rate below the max.

      • Roar Guru

        December 12th 2012 @ 10:26am
        Kurt Sorensen said | December 12th 2012 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        indeed, in hindsight i tend to think the thunder made the right call (although at the time i thought it was a dumb decision). they obviously had confidence in getting ibaka up to an elite level on both ends.

    • December 30th 2012 @ 9:47am
      ConorHarvey1888 said | December 30th 2012 @ 9:47am | ! Report

      The fantastic play of Kevin Martin seems to have justified the move to some extent so far, despite Harden excelling in Houston.
      Harden would never have had the shots or possessions to fully reach his level in Oklahoma City, so for him it was great to move to a team where he could be the number one option. He is a phenomenal offensive player, able to shoot the 3 effectively and get to the line almost at will. A huge coo for Houston to get him and lock him up to a long term deal.

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