The Winner And Loser Of The James Harden Trade

  • Joe Levine

By now, you’ve heard all about Saturday night’s big trade in the NBA that sent Oklahoma City’s James Harden and others to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and two first round picks.

But what does this trade mean for the Thunder and the Rockets? Who won and lost this trade?

Let’s get to it.

WINNER: Oklahoma City Thunder

You probably can’t even believe this right now. “OKC won?” you’re asking. Yes, they did. And I’ll tell you why: because James Harden is not a max-contract player. Don’t get me wrong; Harden is very good. Only 23 years old and already a top five shooting guard in the league basically averaging 17-4-4 on an NBA Finals team? He is a stud, no doubt.

But is he worth a max contract? That’s the real question. Harden’s stats do not exist in a vacuum.

He’s playing on a team with two of the most explosive offensive players in the game in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who draw a lot of defensive attention and allow Harden to not only avoid getting double-teamed, but also benefit from wide-open looks when Durant and Westbrook see extra defenders. And as the team’s sixth man, he gets a good amount of his numbers against the opposition’s second unit.

We actually just saw Harden get exposed in this year’s Finals against Miami, where his scoring wilted to just 12 points per game on 38% shooting. And that was still as the team’s #3 option on offense.

And don’t forget that OKC offered Harden a contract for four years and $55 million. Not max money, but certainly plenty for the third best player on the team (possibly fourth, depending on your opinion of Serge Ibaka).

In the end, the money they save by not maxing out Harden while still getting back perennial 20+ point scorer/sharpshooter Kevin Martin and rookie sharpshooter Jeremy Lamb, not to mention two first round picks that very well should be in the lottery, make Oklahoma City the definite winner of this trade and somehow in even better position to dominate the next 15 years of the NBA than they were before.

LOSER: Houston Rockets

On paper, you’d think the Rockets also won this trade. They finish their roster makeover by not only adding a backcourt partner for newly-signed Jeremy Lin, but adding one who is coming off his best NBA season yet and an Olympic gold medal this summer. How could this be a bad thing for Houston?

Here’s why: they gave up way too much for Harden.

The Rockets essentially mortgaged their future for who they hope is their franchise star. Kevin Martin? Okay, I get trading him. Martin and Jeremy Lamb? Okay, that sounds reasonable. Martin, Lamb, and TWO first round picks? That is too much, especially for a team that likely won’t make the playoffs this year considering how competitive the West is. I mean, do you see a lineup of Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, and Omer Asik making it to the playoffs? Because I don’t. In the East, sure, but not in the West, not against the Lakers, Mavericks, Spurs, Grizzlies, Suns, Nuggets, T-Wolves, Thunder, Blazers, and Clippers.

So while this move was a step in the right direction for Houston in how Harden is a great young piece, they completely shoot themselves in the foot by giving up two first round picks for him and hamstring any chance they have at building on the move in the future. They must be banking on Harden becoming a full-fledged star and Jeremy Lin rekindling the Lin-sanity that escaped him at the end of last season, because otherwise, I see quite a few mediocre seasons in their future.

All statistics via Basketball Reference