We’re well aware that most of the basketball world has already processed and moved on from the James Harden trade. But here at Hickory-High things move at a languid, gentlemanly pace. For Matt Swiman, Kris Fenrich and I there was still processing to be done. Here’s a few questions about Harden, the Thunder and the Rockets that we’ve been trying to answer for ourselves:
Who got the better deal?
Kris - Push. There’s too much gray here; both teams and GMs accomplished what they set out to do. I prefer to look at this from a different angle: How do the coaches feel about these deals? Kevin McHale‘s pleased even though he’s not exactly sure what he’s getting himself into. Scott Brooks is a company man, so he’ll get in line with the company line, but it’s doubtful he believes Eric Maynor + Kevin Martin + Jeremy Lamb > Eric Maynor + James Harden. His job just became more challenging, but relative to his peers, it’s still a joy to coach this team … with Kev Martin as his 6th man … tough life.
Matt - The Rockets got the better deal. They failed to get Dwight Howard but came up big with James Harden. Now that they have a superstar on their team they will finally get some respect. Also the fact that they were able to keep Royce White was a big plus. With Linsanity and Harden’s beard there will indeed be some terrific t-shirts coming from the Houston Rockets.
Ian - It’s a huge cop out but I think this was almost completely even. Obviously the Rockets are thrilled, this was a no-brainer for them. It feels like the Thunder got a raw deal right now because of all they lost in terms of continuity, chemistry, identity and warm fuzzies, but those things can be rebuilt. Kevin Martin should be able to give the Thunder 90% of James Harden’s offense, albeit with much less style. Jeremy Lamb is a real prospect and two future first round picks is nothing to sneeze at. The only way this ends up being a definitive loss down the road for the Thunder is if it somehow sours Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on Oklahoma City or the collective progress they’ve made, causing them to chase greener pastures.
What does the mean for Houston’s youth movement?
Matt - This only helps the youth movement of the Rockets – they still were able to add a 24 year-old star in Harden. As I said earlier keeping White is huge as well. The draft picks are a big piece, but if Harden is willing to sign a max deal it will be worth it.
Ian - All I’ve got to say is that there are some lucky young guys in the Houston locker room. In my opinion there is nothing more detrimental to a young player’s growth than not having clearly defined roles and responsibilities. With Harden here everything comes into focus. Each of the Rockets’ young forwards now should have a clear path to implementing their strengths on the floor, and an obvious list of things to work on if they want to cement their future with the team. Instead of floundering for years on a floundering team, the foundation for structure, and with it development, is now in place.
Kris - The youth movement is still in effect. In fact, Houston got younger with this deal. They lost the youngster in Jeremy Lamb, but swapped out the aging Martin for Harden. Other than the Knicks being the oldest team in the league, I don’t know much else about average team ages, but this Houston squad is a young bunch. Of 15 rostered players, nine are 23 or younger and 11 players have played in two seasons or less–with four rookies included. I’m not suggesting chaperones or spiritual guides, but I’m also acknowledging these kind of authority figures could be beneficial for this young group.
What sort of impact do you expect from Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb?
Ian - Team and individual struggles pushed Martin to the edge of irrelevancy last season. But don’t kid yourself into thinking he’s washed up or on the way out. 2010-2011 was arguably his best offensive season, and he’s just 28 years old. Although not quite as accomplished a passer as Harden, Martin does many of the same things at a near elite level. He’s a terrific spot-up shooter, creates in isolation, draws fouls, and scores efficiently. He’s also proven he can do all of those things while playing with a largely atrocious collection of teammates. Durant and Westbrook are only going to make him more effective. Lamb probably won’t make a huge impact this year, and may not have the chance to see many minutes behind Westbrook, Martin, Eric Maynor and Thabo Sefolosha. He has the talent to be an impact player but the Thunder will bring him along slowly.
Kris - The Thunder are not the deepest squad, but they’re a veteran squad with what projects be an eight-man rotation. The Presti/Brooks expectations for Lamb should be extremely low; show development, grasp the concepts, provide occasional energy off the bench and prove he’s capable of conforming to the OKC culture; something that has to be easier for any young athlete who has Kevin Durant leading by example. Martin can’t create like Harden, but he can score from all over the court and gets to the line at a high rate while shooting no lower than 88% from the line the past three seasons. I’ve never met Kevin Martin, so I can’t speak directly to his personality, but David Thorpe speaks highly of him and Martin seems genuinely excited to be joining a contender; regardless of role.
Matt - I still consider Jeremy Lamb an unknown. With a ton of talent coming out of high school level, he provided only spurts of energy and production in college. It will be interesting to see how he develops in the Thunder system. Kevin Martin I expect to still provide 20 points a game, but his defensive ability is not close to Harden’s and the absence of the beard could be felt in that area.
Did the Thunder lose their grip on the Western Conference with this trade?
Kris - Probably not. OKC still has an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. And despite Harden’s departure, their team is still intact, still playing the same system with over 90% of the same personnel. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the Lakers have radically rebuilt themselves. Their coach is in just his second year, he’s instituting a new offense, adding a high octane point guard around a pair of dominant bigs and a volume-shooting wing who prefers to create his own shots. OKC keeps the edge, but the Lakers are going to pick up ground as the season progresses.
Matt - The Thunder lost their grip on the Western Conference this year, and this year only. Those first round draft picks easily could become lottery picks as Houston is stuck in a very talented Western Conference pool and Toronto may struggle to make the playoffs as well. If those picks wind up in the lottery, OKC is the big winner. With those picks, Durant, Westbrook, Lamb and Perry Jones they could be in great position to win many championships. I did say many.
Ian - I don’t think so. Like I said above, I think Martin can duplicate a lot of what Harden did for the Thunder. Maynor being back and healthy makes a huge difference as well. I think the biggest question is what this does to the team’s attitude. I was expecting Durant, Westbrook and Harden to extract brutal, season-long vengeance on the entire league for their Finals loss. I’m not sure if Durant and Westbrook muster the same fury now that their trio has become a dyad.