Originally written October 28, 2012 on NBA 24/7 365:
The business side of the NBA can get pretty crazy, and I’ve been caught off guard by many a trade in the past… but I’m not sure any deal has ever taken me by surprise quite like the one that has just been orchestrated by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have sent reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden (and his beard) to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and a bushel of draft picks.  Details courtesy of InsideHoops.com… The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks and a second round pick from the Houston Rockets in exchange for guard James Harden, center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti. “We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved. Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers,” Presti said. “We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin’s caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team. We appreciate James, Cole, Daequan and Lazar’s contributions to the Thunder organization and this community and wish them the best in the future.” Martin (6-7, 185) will enter his ninth NBA regular season with career averages of 18.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists, including a .377 (744-of-1974) mark from three-point range and .865 (2,716-of-3,140) from the line. The Western Carolina product has averaged 20 or more points in five of the last eight seasons and has finished in the top 10 in the NBA in free-throw percentage in each of the last three seasons. The 20-year old Lamb (6-5, 180) enters his rookie campaign after being selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. During his sophomore season, Lamb averaged 17.7 points and 4.9 rebounds on his way to being named to the All-BIG EAST First team after finishing the previous season as the second leading scorer on UCONN’s 2011 NCAA Men’s Championship team. Reports of this trade broke in the wake of earlier reports that Harden had declined a four-year, $52 million offer from Oklahoma City, which would’ve paid him $13 million per year.  Harden was seeking a maximum deal of $60 million total, or $15 million per year.  Word on the streets was that negotiations would continue, but it appears that Sam Presti had already offered his best, concluding that it wasn’t in the team’s best interest to offer Harden a penny more than $52 million. Being that the Thunder have their eye on the ultimate prize, I’m a bit shocked that they elected to go this particular route.  I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see James Harden on another squad in ’13/14, but in ’12/13?  I figured he’d be in OKC even if an extension couldn’t be agreed upon.  Instead, he’ll be playing alongside Jeremy Lin in Houston, where he’ll soon become the recipient of those 60 million dollars. The Rockets, who have been itching to make moves since failing to acquire Dwight Howard, will move forward with a young core of Lin, Harden, Asik, and Motiejunas.  Much of the offensive load figures to fall squarely on the shoulders of Harden, so we’re about to find out precisely what he’s made of.  The same goes for Jeremy Lin. As for the Thunder, they’ll insert Kevin Martin into Harden’s old role and go from there.  Martin isn’t exactly the playmaker that Harden is, so OKC has lost a ball handler… but he can certainly score the basketball.  Martin spent much of the past year on the sideline, but let’s not forget that he’s just one season removed from averaging 23.5 PPG.  James Harden has developed quite the reputation as a scorer, and his career high is just 16.8.  It should also be noted that Martin represents a $12 million expiring contract.  The free agent class of ’13 doesn’t really have a whole lot to offer on the wing, but there are a few intriguing bigs that could be available. In addition to Kevin Martin, the Thunder have acquired Jeremy Lamb, a rookie out of Connecticut selected 12th overall by the Rockets.  Although Lamb made little noise in the preseason (6 PPG, 38% FG), it’s not often that an NBA Finalist is able to add a lottery pick.  In this case, they’ve likely added two, as one of the future first-rounders they’ll receive originated in Toronto. THE VERDICT: In order to secure their core for the long haul, the Thunder would’ve been forced to overpay James Harden.  Harden is a nice young player, but $15 million nice?  Nah, I don’t think so.  So, while they may have regressed a bit in the short term, I think OKC has put themselves in position to be even better just a few years down the line.  They’ve also maintained some financial flexibility, which can’t hurt. So, from a Thunder perspective, this deal gets my stamp of approval.  As for Houston’s end of the bargain… let’s just say I’m not convinced that Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Omer Asik will be worth $45 million in the year 2014.  Slim Thug, however, happens to think the deal is “dope.” Looks like the beef is squashed.
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