Friday, November 2, 2012

OKC's James Harden Trade Has Me Confused



It helps when writing a blog post to have a strong opinion one way or another.  "Hot dogs are great!  If you disagree I hate you!"  "The Beatles are overrated."  "Kevin Love should never do knuckle push ups again."  You pick topics in which you have a strong opinion, then you build your case throughout the post on why you are right and why anyone opposing your pro-hot dog stance should be run out of America and sent to Russia so they can be with the rest of their commie comrades (no offense Andrei or Alexei).  Unfortunately for me, after being shocked by the James Harden trade over the weekend, I don't have a strong opinion on whether it was a good move for anyone involved.  Now instead of making you agree with my unknown stance, let me take your possible strong stance one way or another and bring you into a state of confusion with me.

First, let's look at the deal itself: 

OKC Deals -

James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward.

Houston Deals -

Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 - 1st Round Picks and a 2nd Round Pick.

OKC's reasoning is simple.  Sam Presti says - "Somebody is going to offer you a max deal James when you reach restricted free agency this summer, we aren't willing to go that far with you and you want nothing less.  At this point we find Serge Ibaka  more important than you, we'll save cash for him, peace out and take your beard salve with you."

Houston's reasoning is simple as well.  Daryl Morey says - "Kevin Martin, we're trading you at some point this season, let's see what this expiring contract can get us.  Just for the hell of it Kev, while you're in the office, let me call OKC...I am going to see (starts dialing Presti's cell) if they'd possibly be interested in your expiring contract and some other pieces for James Harden." Kevin Martin laughs at the notion. *ring ring* 10 minutes later..."HOLY SHIT THEY SAID YES!"

Now what?  Who won?  Did OKC just close the door on their championship window?  Is James Harden a "go to" guy?  What did OKC learn about Harden in the Finals last year that maybe we don't fully know from the outside looking in?  How will this affect the OKC chemistry?  Is this the best deal ever for Houston?  Or maybe OKC?

I DON'T KNOW!

For those of you out there that read Bill Simmons, you may have seen his story on this.  He seems more than anything sad at the fact that the fairytale of OKC's three young players growing up together in the NBA, taking their lumps together, but then bouncing back and winning the title is now dead.  I understand what Bill is saying, but hasn't he been around sports long enough to know that business trumps fairytales every single day in pro sports?

Locally, Marbury and Garnett could've wrote a fairytale of two kids bringing the struggling TPups franchise out of the expansion rubble to win a title together as buds.  Dead due to Marbury wanting to go to New York.  Lebron's Cleveland fairytale of leading his hometown team to a title as the "Chosen One".  Dead, it was a lot easier in Miami.  Now Bill Simmons fairytale is dead as well, murdered by Sam Presti's vision of building a long term flexible competitor instead of a short windowed run that is hampered by too many huge contracts and overlapping skill sets.

This move is very New England Patriots-esque.  Hey thanks for all you've done for us, sorry but committing to you may cost us flexibility, so either you continue on with our terms or you're gone.  Durant is Brady, he is untouchable.  Everyone else?  Get in line behind Durant and do it our way or we'll find somebody that will.  Fairytales are just that, fake as fairys.

The genius of this move is that they could very well be just as good as they were last year.  Look I understand the 6th man of the year won't be easy to replace.  But Durant is at worst the 2nd best player in the league and Westbrook is top 10, they still have Serge Ibaka who seems like he will just continue to improve.  Kevin Martin can offensively give the Thunder close if not the same production on offense as Harden gave them from the spot they put Harden in.  Then don't forget, if they find they have a hole mid-season, they now have two 1st round picks to play with in the trade market to try to fill those holes.

Yeah, but Harden is young, he still has upside.

Oh don't worry, they picked up an upside guy in rookie Jeremy Lamb and if he grooms into a nice player this season, he can take Kevin Martin's spot next year and they rack in $12 million in cap space from Martin's expiring contract at the end of the year.

OK, so OKC wins the trade then, is that what you're saying?

No, because Houston just landed a guy that likely would have been one of the top free agents this summer and only gave up a guy they would have traded anyways, a rookie and some draft picks.  None of those things traded produce the likelihood of being really good to great like Harden does.  We've seen flashes from Harden that make you think he could be a #1 guy on a team.  Plus, just look at the shooting guard market in the NBA.  Find me anyone outside of Kobe or Wade that you'd rather have running the two-guard spot more than Harden right now?

So doesn't being the third best shooting guard in the NBA earn you the right to a max-deal?  Isn't it dumb then to trade him? 

It would seem that way.  In fact, with Wade's injuries that keep him out of so many games and Kobe's injuries that somehow he continues to play through but have to at some point catch up to him (Right? They have to right?) if he is human, maybe Harden is a year or two away from taking over as the top shooting guard in the league.  BUT, I am STILL thinking OKC made a good decision, or at least didn't hurt their title window by making this move!

Now I am getting confused...

Adding to our confusion, I started this post on the day that Harden made his Houston debut and all he did was go for 37 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds.  Now if he averages those numbers for the season, OKC made the wrong decision.  He won't though, and even if he averages low to mid-20's ppg (seems more likely) I think OKC came out fine giving up the third (likely soon to be first) best shooting guard in the league and here is the big reason why:  When you have a player the likes of a Kevin Durant, your in the title hunt as long as the next best player on the team isn't named Smush Parker. (BOOM!  First Smush Parker reference in STOB history!)

...Smush Parker?

When you look at NBA history, it is very rare that arguably the best player in the league is on a team that doesn't start every season off with a very good chance of winning it all.  Durant fits the mold.  When you have that type of player, basketball is the type of game that one guy like a Durant or Lebron can elevate their team above most others just by showing up.  After they show up, all you need to do is surround them with good, not great, talent and you have a contender.  OKC has better than good talent still without Harden.

Yeah but they would have even better talent had they kept Harden!

I hear ya, but keeping Harden at his asking price meant losing Serge Ibaka.  I think Presti thought finding a big like Ibaka may not have been harder to find than a shooting guard like Harden, because as I explained earlier elite shooting guards are tough to find, but that Ibaka's skills matched up more to the needs that a team built around a strong wing (Durant) and point guard (Westbrook).  OKC already has a guy on the wing that can shoot it, drive it, and create in Durant.  They have a point guard that is dominant in Westbrook.  Ibaka fills the big man that can score some inside, rebound and block shots.  Harden's skills for the most part overlapped with what Durant gave you.

Remember, Harden being the 3rd best shooting guard in the league last year, came off the bench and did so his entire career with OKC.  That wasn't because his skills are bad, it was because they overlapped with what their star already gave them.  Sure, it was nice to have a 6th man like Harden, but it was a luxury not a necessity and therefore not worth the max contract for OKC, though it is for Houston.

Ok, so everyone wins in this thing.  Is that's what we've learned?

Maybe it is...shit...I don't know.  This was a weird post for me, I started it without knowing my statement I was trying to make other than the fact that I knew I was confused or neutral as to what to think about this Harden trade.  Through writing it out, I think I've figured one thing out, something I actually knew all along about the NBA.  As long as you have a player like Durant, you win on almost every move you make other than losing Durant.

Durant/Lebron/Wade/Kobe/Jordan/Bird/Magic/Olajuwon/Russell/Chamberlain/etc., the guys that are, or are arguably, the best in the league during their career, make everything their team touches turn to gold.  The only teams currently in the NBA that could make a trade of James Harden, without Harden demanding it, make any sense are the Thunder, Heat and Lakers...interesting they each have a player from the aforementioned list.

OKC will still be good without Harden.  Houston will be better with Harden.  How much better Houston will be, and how much worse, if at all, OKC will be we can't know right now and anyone saying any different is just guessing.

 

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