The Twittersphere entered a state of shock late Saturday night when reports of a deal that would send the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, to the Houston Rockets first surfaced. In exchange for Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and one second-round pick. To make the cap figures match up, the Thunder also sent Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward and Cole Aldrich to Houston.
Good for James Harden
Harden was (and would always be) the third wheel in Oklahoma City, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, Harden gets his own team … and a really fat paycheck, likely to be inked in the next few days … to show us what he really can do. Harden’s at his best with the ball in his hands, running the pick-and-roll, facilitating for his teammates or in straight isolation. (Remember, many in OKC referred to him as the team’s truest point guard.)
And, of course, money talks. According to the fantastic Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! Sports, Sam Presti’s final offer to Harden was in the area of four years, $54 million. In Houston, Harden is likely to sign a max deal worth around $80 million over five years. That’s $26 million. I’d skip town for that kind of money, too.
Sam Presti is skilled in basic arithmetic
The Thunder’s GM probably has access to a calculator. Two months ago, the team signed Serge Ibaka to a four-year, $48 million extension, and in January, OKC inked point guard Russell Westbrook to a five-year extension rumored to hover around the max level of $80 million. And the team’s star, Kevin Durant is still in the beginning half of his five-year, $86 million extension signed in July 2010.
Bottom line here: the NBA’s salary cap is set at about $58 million for the 2012-13 season, and the Thunder already had, with Kendrick Perkins’ four-year, $36 million deal also on the books, more than $54 million tied up in four players. If OKC — let’s remember, a small market team here — had signed Harden, it would have been well over the league’s luxury tax limit of $70 million.
But, Sam Presti, what’s the rush?
The ball was in Oklahoma City’s court here. Harden’s rookie deal would expire at the end of the season, but he’d only be a restricted free agent with minimal leverage; Presti could match any deal Harden signed elsewhere. So, if the two sides couldn’t come to terms then, Presti could always deal his star to any of the long list of teams that would line up for the former Arizona State Sun Devil.
With Harden, Oklahoma City’s a championship-caliber team. Without the beard, depending on what the Thunder can get out of Martin, who only played 40 games for Houston in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season and has had his fair share of injury woes, OKC is not in the same league as the Lakers or Heat.
Houston gets its franchise guy, but will he deliver?
With the signing of Jeremy Lin and the trade for Harden, expectations will be high in Houston. But can Harden deliver as the go-to guy? Who knows, only time will tell. His game is well-suited for the role, but whether he can deliver night after night as defenses build gameplans around him is another question. Last year, Harden averaged only 31.4 minutes per game of Scott Brooks’s bench … and we all know about his disappearing act in the Finals.
But for now, I’ll grade Houston as a narrow winner in the deal. After all, they acquired the only star to change teams.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.