For the second time this off-season a super star has been traded. James Harden’s move however was much more surprising in how quickly it played out; unlike, of course, Dwight Howard who for his sins should have been sent to the Bobcats.
OKC was a Championship Team last year that ran into the best player of the last twenty years at his absolute peak. There is no way the team should have been broken up – absolutely none. The people who are saying “thanks!” today are the LA Lakers who have seen their biggest competitor break up completely uneccessarily. Was Harden going to sign less than a max deal? The signs seem to point to the fact that he would not have – that does not mean OKC had to trade him right away, they could have run through the rest of the league this season and then re-evaluated after the playoffs were over (Harden would have been a restricted free agent and they could have traded him or matched any offer he recieved).
Instead the team chose to deal with him right now and after being unable to convince him to take a pay cut, they traded him away. This deserves a genuine Saul Berenson (from Homeland) quote “What the f–k are you doing?”
Harden gave OKC ridiculous depth off the bench, and a perimeter scorer who could handle the ball. When he was on the floor, OKC could run and spread out and had three guys who could handle the ball. Against the Lakers, he was a wildcard, a guy who they could not afford to focus on – basically he was going to have free reign. Pair him with Westbrook and Durant and you had a ridiculous young core (without throwing in Serge Ibaka who has a high ceiling of his own).
Now they have traded it all away which should tell us a few things:
Firstly, they are terrified of Dwight Howard and do not plan to amnesty the otherwise useless Kendrick Perkins. Instead of paying a top 20 guy (who could rise to top 10 and is probably the third best shooting guard in the league) they are going to pay Perkins for his contributions against one team. Hope OKC enjoys watching Perkins get roasted by the rest of the league!
Secondly, they believe in Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has a high ceiling and he can protect the rim and block shots. His offense is improving and he will eventually be a very good player. However, he could not even start on the Spanish national team. Harden has the potential to be a superstar…Ibaka has a chance to be a premier defensive player, obviously not an easy choice but hopefully OKC made the right one.
Finally, this is Durant and Westbrook’s team. Going forward they will have some good scoring off the bench from Kevin Martin, but they have lost Harden’s ball handling abilities. Very, very interesting going forward, but Westbrook and Durant will have even more pressure on them to carry this team going forward and carry them past the mighty Lakers.
As for Harden, he must be devestated. For a guy who just wants to win, going from a sure contender to a rebuilding team where your best teammate is Linsanity is going to be a tough adjustment. Additionally, as Bill Simmons wrote, Harden is more than happy not carrying the load: now he has to.
The big winners in this whole trade. Without question the Lakers. Game on.