|Who came out on top in the James Harden blockbuster? (US Presswire)|
The Thunder pulled a stunner Saturday night sending James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks and a second round pick.
It's quite a turn of events for the Thunder who just sent their Sixth Man of the Year packing after failing to agree to an extension for him.
But who came out on top in this deal? And who took one to the teeth? Here are some winners and losers:
Houston Rockets: They traded Martin, who was on an expiring deal, Lamb, an unproven rookie, and a horde of picks for a budding 23-year-old superstar with an awesome beard. (Oh, and Aldrich, Cook and Hayward.) Are they a contender? Far from it, but they are certainly improved and built to make a decent run at the postseason.
Assuming of course that Harden is ready for the spotlight on his own.
James Harden: The Thunder's top dollar was reportedly four years, $55.5 million. Just a $4.5 million short of the max they could give, because Russell Westbrook already has the five-year extension and you're only allowed one per CBA. Instead, Harden will almost assuredly get a a five-year, near $80 million deal from Houston. So basically, he got a nice little $25 million extra for getting traded. Not bad.
Eric Maynor: A player once seen as entirely expendable now likely becomes a priority for Sam Presti and the Thunder. Maybe not, but it was virtually a guarantee that Maynor was out of the OKC picture if Harden got paid. Now, the money is there if the Thunder are keen on keeping him.
Daryl Morey: Desperately in search of a star to build around, Morey finally has his man. He hunted Dwight Howard, fished after Marc Gasol and had Pau Gasol for about five minutes. He gets Harden, a player with a long resume already at 23, who has played in The Finals, made the U.S. Olympic team, has an individual trophy and is probably only going to get better. Not only does Morey have his star, but he has a true building block for the future.
Jeremy Lin: That sound? That's a deep sigh of relief from Jeremy Lin. The Rockets were expected to struggle this season and most likely, there were going to be fingers pointed at Lin. If he didn't carry Houston, he was going to get roasted for not living up to the hype and dollar amount.
Instead, he's a clear second banana to Harden and will have an outstanding backcourt running mate to work with. Harden can handle the ball, take pressure off Lin and create on his own.
Kevin Martin: He hasn't played on a 50-win team since his rookie season. He steps into an incredible situation with the Thunder, playing wing scorer beside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. There will be open looks for Martin, and there will be plenty of them.
Daniel Orton: The Thunder waived Orton Saturday to sign 15th man DeAndre Liggins. After dealing away four players and getting back two, the Thunder have open roster spots. And a newfound need inside after trading their apparent backup center. Orton will almost assuredly be getting a call in the near future.
Los Angeles Lakers: Of course the Lakers benefit. Why wouldn't they? Their top competition in the West just got a little worse. The Thunder still should be able to compete with L.A., but it's not the same now without Harden.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook: They were bros with The Beard. The Thunder have an extremely tight roster, with guys genuinely being each other's friends. Durant and Harden are especially close.
But it's not just that. Harden was a perfect complement to Westbrook and Durant, a player that worked wonderfully off them. OKC could put the ball in Harden's hands, let him work on his own and create, or simply score. Now, that outlet is gone. Yeah, Kevin Martin is a nice, efficient scorer but he's not the creator or handler Harden is.
Serge Ibaka: Ibaka signed a four-year, $49 million extension with the Thunder over the summer. Most indications pointed to Ibaka being in the discussion for a max level contract if he waited for restricted free agency. Instead, he opted for the extension meaning he potentially left money on the table. In a roundabout way, he gave up money to try and help the Thunder in their quest to re-sign Harden.
Oklahoma City: What a welcome-to-the-NBA moment it is for Thunder fans. OKC fans just got a crash course in how ugly, nasty and two-faced professional sports can be. From Harden preaching about "sacrifice" to stay, to Sam Presti speaking about "challenges," the thinking in Oklahoma City was that Harden wouldn't go anywhere. Clearly though, the sermon Presti has been preaching about challenges in one of the smallest markets in the league is serious. The Thunder can't compete financially with the big boys. They can't keep their own players. They can't re-sign a 23-year-old star that's just coming in to his own and was a key piece on a championship caliber team.
Instead, they had to deal him away to try and spare some money in the future. It makes me wonder: If OKC can't do that, what does the long-term future hold for this franchise? If they're willing to let a player like Harden get away over $4.5 million, does that give great confidence going forward? It's a wake-up moment. The Jeff Green deal was big and wild, but it was also necessary. This wasn't. This was a business decision, not a roster decision. The Thunder aren't trying to add a critical piece for a title run. They're fussing over dollars and cents. If James Harden is expendable, then who isn't?
Children in OKC: You know a whole lot of kids have just been sent back to the drawing board with their Halloween costumes.
Phoenix Suns: The feeling around the league was that if the Thunder couldn't agree with Harden, the Suns would be the first team to pounce in free agency next summer. They missed out on Eric Gordon and now they've missed out on Harden.
Dallas Mavericks: Same story for the Mavs, who were set to have cap space to spend next summer. Harden could've been a very nice building block to start over with in Big D.
James Harden: Yep, he's a loser here too. His image took a bit of a blow after he held out for max money after spending all summer talking sacrifices and brotherhood. Essentially, he turned out to be one of those typical lying pro athletes.
The other thing is that he now doesn't get to play under the umbrella of Durant and Westbrook. He's now The Man, now the featured offensive player. He will be gameplanned for every night, he will be the defensive focus. He has enough ability to handle it, but it's a new world for him. He doesn't have the option to disappear from a game and go 2-13 from the floor and bank on a couple superstar teammates carrying the load. He's got to bring it every night, which is something he's not accustomed to.
Nick Collison: His pick-and-roll buddy is gone. Nobody had a better two-man game in the league than Harden and Collison. The Thunder actually had a very specific set
The new "competitively balanced" NBA: I don't think there's any question that if you placed this identical situation in Los Angeles rather than Oklahoma City, that Harden would've been re-signed months ago. Instead, entirely because of money and market size, the Thunder had to cut ties with a great young player.
The new system that future commish Adam Silver claimed would balance the league with a more punitive tax backfired against the bastion of NBA small markets. The little guy gets screwed again while the big boys count their money and pay their stars.