How Might the Thunder Be Affected by the Harden Trade?
by Charles, NBA Handicapper, Predictem.com
The big personnel maneuver in the NBA over the past week involved a team that got one step away from grabbing the brass ring last season and aspires to get there this year. And it was a move that though apparently necessary, will undoubtedly affect their chances of getting into position for a title run once again.
The Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in a rough spot with James Harden. The Arizona State product, who has turned into a prolific scorer, was being offered a four-year contract worth $53 million but wanted about $7 million more. Faced with the prospect of Harden becoming unrestricted at season’s end, something had to be done, and it was, as Harden was sent to the Houston Rockets, along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward, with Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb coming their way, in addition to two first-round picks and a second-rounder.
The Oklahoma City organization was trying to avoid some “luxury tax” problems in the coming years, which would have an obvious impact on the quality of the supporting cast, but the speculation is largely over how much this deal could conceivably set back the overall timetable.
AtBetAnySports, the Thunder are +245 to win the Western Conference title. That puts them in second position on that futures list, behind the Los Angeles Lakers, who are obviously getting a lot of attention with the acquisition of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in particular.
Should the trade of Harden affect them adversely?
Of course, Harden, as the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year, filled a special function, because it is a different kind of mentality for a player who is of starting caliber to come off the bench, and to do it very well. Some deal with it a lot better than others, to put it mildly. The thought of coming off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies made Allen Iverson wince, and it eventually led to his departure. O.J. Mayo was faced with the same thing for the same team, and though he did accept the role, and at times flourished in it, the feeling was that he was not all that comfortable in it, perhaps from an ego standpoint more than anything else.
The slender (6’7″, 185) Martin is a pure scorer with an ability to get to the line; that much cannot be disputed. He had averaged at least 18 points a game each year from his third season forward, with the exception of last season, when he posted a 17.1 average. He has played with a lot of pain too. He assumed a sixth man role with Sacramento during one of those injury-plagued seasons, and although we can’t make the claim that he was all too comfortable with it, he might be suited for it.
It is true that he isn’t as much of a playmaker as Harden. And like Harden, he doesn’t necessarily add much defense to the bottom line, but a key for OKC is that they have people who can make up for it, like Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. These are players who can stop the opposition from scoring. How Scott Brooks eventually decides to distribute starting opportunities and minutes is up to him, but it probably won’t be something that would leave him at a disadvantage.
The difficulty with Martin is the risk that comes with someone who might simply be injury-prone. Over the last four seasons he has missed 144 games. That is almost half the total his teams (Sacramento, then Houston) have played during that time.
So the challenge is for him to be able to sustain the entire 82-game schedule; that is, if Oklahoma City wants to put itself in a position to be hosting a couple of playoff rounds in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. If Martin is missing for any significant period of time, that will leave a hole in the Thunder rotation, although it must be noted that another component has come into the fold in the person of rookie Lamb, especially if he is as athletic as many tout him to be. And the first-rounders will be useful into the future, which is consistent with the long-term strategy of management.
Most basketball followers atBetAnySportsunderstand that Harden’s role with the Rockets (priced at +6000 to win the West) is going to be different, in that he will become much more of a cornerstone of the offense, instead of a complementary part. They will pay him that way; in fact, he will get the deal he is looking for. He will put up bigger numbers, which will make some fantasy owners very happy. But he will not bring Houston closer to true contention. That potential is there with Martin, at least in the short term, because if you leave him alone (and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on hand, that WILL happen), he is going to drill you.
That is, if he can remain in one piece.
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