I’ve been covering the NBA teams for the past month and trying to predict what exactly I think is going to happen for each team. I was sort of cruising along up until a few days ago when a shocking trade went down less than a week before the start of the season. In fact, the last preview I completed was for the Houston Rockets. 24 hours after I posted that, it became out of date. It's not often you see a trade this big happen so close to the start of the season. By now, you all know the specifics, but here’s a refresher.
Rockets traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first round picks (plus a second round pick) to the Thunder.
Thunder traded Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward to the Rockets.
When someone informed me of this move, I thought they were talking about their season in NBA 2K13. It wasn’t until I looked more into it and realized this crazy move was really happening. I knew the Thunder and Harden were having issues with contract extension talks, but I didn’t know it had become this bad. A lot of times you’ll see a team sit on a player as he plays out the final year of his contract and hope they can lock him up come season’s end, but I guess after the years of LeBron and Bosh leaving their teams, teams aren’t willing to take that risk anymore. The Thunder made a lightning fast decision and just like that, the landscape of the West is a bit more skewed.
I had the Thunder finishing second in the West according to my previews and the Rockets squeaking in at the 8 seed. Now, I have to rethink things, don’t I?
Here’s my overall thoughts on the trade itself. I’m not a huge fan of it for either team, really. The Thunder take a hit on the offense because the chemistry is going to be different – they were a very fluid team as they were all used to each other. They also take a hit on defense because Harden is a much better perimeter defender than Kevin Martin - in fact, Martin is a pretty awful defender. Jeremy Lamb could be a nice player, but he’s obviously a wild card at this point until he proves what he can do.
The Rockets improved their team. Kevin Martin had become a shell of his former self last season and the fact that they could pick up Harden to replace him when he is far better than Martin is exceptional for them. I said in my preview for the Rockets that I wouldn't be surprised if he got traded - I just didn't expect it to happen so quickly. The Rockets are still trying to rebuild while remaining competitive and replacing Kevin Martin with James Harden fits this team so well. This does not, however, propel them into a secure playoff spot. They’re still going to struggle. While Harden is better than Martin, I’m worried they’re locking up too much cash in players that are good, but are not superstars. You can’t get by in this NBA world on the backs of nice players. You need superstars and they may be handcuffing themselves.
After a few days of thinking about it, saving myself from making rash decisions and posting it to this crazy internet world, I have decided on something. This changes nothing that I predicted. The Thunder are still the second seed in the West, it just means the Spurs have a better chance at keeping it closer. I do think the Thunder have now made it more difficult for them to take out the Lakers, but it’s not like Harden performed that spectacularly in the playoffs last season. Kevin Martin will have to become that efficient scoring machine he was several years ago. If that were to happen – he does have the ability to be a better shooter than Harden – then this could work out a lot better than I assumed for the Thunder. Something that needs to happen now is Serge Ibaka becoming more of an offensive force. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will still put up big numbers, but Martin will not command the ball as much as Harden did. That means more touches for other players and Ibaka could be the biggest benefactor of this.
James Harden to the Rockets gives Houston a leader on and off the floor. While he’s still young, Harden has played in games that most of the guys in Houston have just watched on TV. He’ll likely bring the ball up the floor quite a bit, even with Jeremy Lin on the floor. That means a more controlled offense for Houston and fewer turnovers. I don’t think Harden is an All-Star caliber player, but he’s always going to be one of those players in the discussion – a guy some people may claim got snubbed. He’ll become a fan favorite for the Rockets and the face of the franchise going forward.
It’s an intriguing trade, that’s for sure. It has people talking just before the season starts and you know David Stern is eating it up. It could set the tone for the rest of the season. Once the trade deadline comes rolling around, will more teams decide to bite on trades and get rid of key players who are on the brink of becoming free agents? This could be a domino effect and I am very excited to see it play out.
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