I checked my phone one last time before bed Saturday night and saw the news that James Harden had been traded to the Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a selection of draft picks. I didn’t have much time to process then, but here’s what my subconscious had ready for me when I work up Sunday morning:
- My first thought was that the Thunder just began a five-year slide back to the lottery. If they weren’t interested in pushing themselves up against the luxury tax line, than trading Harden was a given and the package they received is about as close to “a hundred cents on the dollar” as they could have hoped for. However, I worry less about what Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb mean for the Thunder on the court and more about what the trade means for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook off it.
Durant and Westbrook have dealt with plenty of basketball adversity, but as much as I can remember right now, very little institutional adversity. Since the Sonics became the Thunder, Durant and Westbrook have played four seasons for the same coach, they’ve essentially been paid as much money as they could ask for and been given as many shots and minutes as their hearts desire. Other than the Jeff Greentrade they have had to weather very little in the way of large-scale roster transitions; it’s essentially been a slow positive build to the situation they found themselves in Saturday morning.
Perhaps I’m projecting, but this seems like the first time both will have to run up against the reality of basketball as a business in a meaningful way. The veil may have been lifted for both on the fantasy of professional basketball as just winning games with your friends. Durant has four years left on his contract, Westbrook five. I wonder what this dose of decidedly un-fun reality will do to their commitment to stay with the Thunder through thick-and-thin, continuing to try and build something dynastic.
- I wonder how Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin are going to enjoy their first “All-White Yacht Party.”
- Obviously the Houston Rockets scored big, finally acquiring the top-tier player they’ve been assembling assets for. The cost in draft picks was steep, but Houston was able to hold on to a lot of their young talent. I’m especially interested to see how some of their young bigs work with Harden in the pick-and-roll. Harden was incredible last season as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.04 points per possession. In Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Motiejunas the Rockets can offer him an array of young partners with burgeoning inside-outside games.
- All the young assets the Rockets had assembled were tantalizing in individual potential, but it was difficult to project how they would develop without knowing what centerpiece Daryl Morey would bring to Houston for them to build around. Now with Harden in place, things will crystallize quickly. Chandler Parsons can settle in as a running partner in transition and focus on making corner-threes. As I mentioned above the young bigs can focus on setting high screens and rolling into open space on their way to the basket. Jeremy Lin can continue to focus on what he did for the Knicks last year, but with the comfort of knowing he won’t have to do it on every single possession. Perhaps there is even room to set White and Motiejunas up in the high post and allow Harden and Lin the freedom to work as cutters and spot-up shooters. It’s really exciting to think about all the possibilities becoming actualities.
- Kevin Martin struggled mightily last season and it’s easy to characterize him as a player on the downside of his peak effectiveness. But don’t forget he’s 28 and just one year removed from his best season, 2010-2011, where he put up a per-36 minute stat line of 25.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 9.3 free throw attempts while shooting 38.3% on three-pointers.
- Houston has back-up center minutes available for Cole Aldrich! I’m still convinced this guys is an NBA rotation player and I’m really excited to see him finally get a chance.
- The Thunder were in the NBA Finals last season, yet still managed to land two of the top ten talents in this year’s draft in Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb.