Table of Contents: 1. Intro. 2. Goodbye. 3. Hello. 4. The Picks. 5. Issues. 6. Final Thoughts.
Oklahoma City, welcome to the NBA.
Don't get me wrong, when I first heard of the Harden deal, my initial reaction was, "NOOOOOOOOOO!" It didn't matter if the Thunder got a 23 year old Michael Jordan in return. The beard is no more! This, coupled with the fact that OU was losing to Notre Dame, served to pretty much destroy my Saturday night.
But, unfortunately, the Thunder are a professional basketball team, and the NBA is a business. I know we've made deals before, but I doubt people were crying about losing Krstic, Green, or Mullens. This is literally the first risky PR move that the Thunder front office has had to make. They had to trade a player who was consistently improving and a huge part of an NBA Finals run in the middle of his prime because they couldn't afford to keep him beyond this season.
I know that we're all wondering why the heck we couldn't keep James Harden. But as far as I'm concerned, that talk is done. After all, if we so rich, then how come we can't afford no ceiling?
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this trade, I'd just like to say that we'll all miss James Harden. He was easily the third best player on the team, and was a huge asset in the clutch. I'll never forget the late game three he hit to send OKC up 3-2 over the San Antonio Spurs. I'm sure everyone has similar memories, but Harden in a Thunder uniform is now nothing more than a memory.
Anyway, let's take a look at the assets we lost and gained.
It's hard to put into words what James Harden was to this team. Kevin Durant was the leader, and Russell Westbrook was the extremely powerful sidekick. But Harden, well, he was the X-Factor. The guy who could step up on any given night and lead the team to greatness. Sometimes he'd just serve as a headache who could only get to the line. But most of the time, he was that extra oomph that pushed the Thunder beyond where they were supposed to go.
The thing I'll miss the most about James, from a basketball standpoint, is his beautiful court vision. No matter where he was on the floor, he always seemed to know how to draw the defense and find the open man. We're not talking about simple drive and dishes. He wasn't afraid to make ballsy passes across the lane, or to swing the ball through a defender's legs. Why? Because he could, and he almost never miscalculated a pass.
But I'd be remiss not to mention his scoring ability. The guy could rise from well beyond the arc and make ice-cold shots. I know Kevin Durant is most famous for having unlimited range, but Harden was equally proficient. More than that, he was the expert at drawing fouls in the paint, knowing exactly when to attack and when to lay fallow. His repertoire with the Thunder big men, notably Collison and Ibaka, was unmatched. He was responsible for a good number of their jumpers, and he was excellent at flying off of their screens.
And you can't close any eulogy to James Harden's Thunder career without complimenting his sense of style and personality. If there was one image I'd like to remember James Harden by, it would be him max chilling at his Yacht party. And who could forget the legendary Foot Locker commercial(s) he had with Russell Westbrook? The crazy games he had during the lockout? His legendary beard? Aww man....
I hardly knew the man, but man, it feels really bad to lose Aldrich. I know we've lost bigs in the past, but in those cases, you knew they were limited. B.J. Mullens was a total butterfingers, while D.J. White was totally one-dimensional on offense. But Cole Aldrich seemed to have something there, waiting to be tapped.
Granted, the guy didn't look like a superstar in the pre-season, and he looked downright horrible in the Summer League. But he was an excellent rebounder, something the Thunder really needed moving forward. He was also a good defender, providing decent size in the paint. But what I'll miss most is his sweet hook. He could hit it with both hands, and from a good distance as well. If he could have utilized that shot night in and night out, he could have been a really legitimate player. But now, we'll have to see him do it on the Rockets. I sure hope you're right about this one, Presti.
Cook was basically a salary dump in this deal. He's a known quantity, but it seems like the Thunder weren't really looking to use him down the road. He got regular minutes during the season, but during the playoffs he was usually reduced to coming in and jacking up a couple threes before sitting back down. Considering how his defense and offensive awareness had improved during his time in OKC, it was sad to see him get to that point.
At the end of the day, with two more guards coming in and Cook eating up 3 million dollars in contract this year, Presti had let go of him. Ironically, Cook was originally traded to the Thunder when the Heat needed to dump salary for LeBron James. Regardless, I was a pretty big Cook fan, and it will be hard to replace his gamesmanship from three. No, Rautins doesn't even compare.
Lazar Hayward (NOT HAYWOOD)
10 years from now, my most vivid memory of Lazar Hayward will probably be how opposing announcers always seemed to get his name wrong at the end of blowouts, calling him Lazar Haywood. But, I still have some fond memories of him as a player. He was never the most beautiful guy to watch, and he didn't have much of a shot. But he always gave maximum effort and did the dirty work when the job called for it. He was never a first team guy, but when he was given extended minutes during the Pre-Season and in the Summer League, he was kind of a workhorse, forcing himself to the line and jump starting the Thunder's offense when the situation called for it.
He wasn't much to talk about on the floor for the Thunder, but every dog has his day. On March 21st, he was called upon to give some spot minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers, a team the Thunder had struggled against. And in the second quarter, he hit two consecutive threes that helped propel the Thunder to a 114-91 win. As forgettable as his Thunder career was, he did contribute a piece to our puzzle. Farewell, Lazar.
The first thing you'll notice about Kevin Martin is that he missed 26 games last year. He also missed several games in 09-10, and has been known for being injury prone for his entire NBA career. A quick scan of his injury history at Pro Sports Transactions tells us that Martin has had an array of injury issues. Recently he's been dealing with shoulder problems, but he has also dealt with some pretty major left ankle issues and has had surgery on his left wrist. His shoulder problems were so severe last season that Tom Martin of the Dream Shake had, at one point, declared him unwatchable.
But, we'll try to look past that for now. How is Martin as a basketball player? There's no better place to go than the horse's mouth, so here's a few quotes from the Dream Shake on Martin's game.
"I've said this before, I think, but I'll say it again: I can't think of a better situation for Martin to be in. He's surrounded with flexible talent, and now that he'll finally have a post presence (at least some of the time), he's going to thrive. The Rockets around Martin aren't the type of players who will take touches away from him. They're also quite capable of picking up the slack if he's having an off-night, though I don't think our worries about Martin will stem from the offensive end."
"Kevin Martin can still score efficiently, whether or not you want to admit it. It's not the historically potent efficiency we saw two years ago, but 17 points on 13 shots is nothing to cry about, especially if it came during what anyone would call an off-year.
I think the biggest key to Martin's success is his health. We really don't know exactly when he injured his shoulder, but you could tell just by watching him, the rule changes didn't limit his free throw attempts as much as he limited them himself. He didn't drive with the same confidence and power, likely a result of his bum shoulder. If he's fully healthy entering this season, I'd expect his free throw numbers to jump back to around 6 to 7 per game, and for his shooting stroke to return to the high thirties from three-point range."
"Last season saw both his volume of scoring and his efficiency take a nosedive. Some attribute these struggles to a change from Rick Adelman's offense to Kevin McHale's, others point out the new rules diminish his value at the free throw line, and others speculate that Martin was pouting all season after being traded nearly being traded for Pau Gasol in December.
All of these thoughts have some merit, but the biggest factor has to be Martin's injury. In a practice on February 2nd, Martin aggravated an existing shoulder injury, a labral tear, yet opted to continue playing through it. The worst part of the injury was the timing of it. After a disappointing start to the season, Martin appeared to be hitting his stride during the stretch immediately preceding this injury. He had registered 32, 25, 31, 29, 29, and 29 points in the six games he had played before the re-injury of the shoulder.
Martin had raised his PER past 20 and seemed poised to return to past form before the injury knocked him down. From that point on, Martin averaged just 14.6 points per game and failed to reach double digits nine times. He was finally knocked out for good by a hard screen in Cleveland on March 11th, and the team took off without him."
If you're too lazy to read through all of that, I'll give you everything in a nutshell. Kevin Martin is still an efficient scorer, but injuries have clearly slowed him down. He looked really good in the pre-season, but it's hard to tell how much that means. He also seems to work well when he's got a post presence helping him out. Still, if he is healthy, the potential is there for him to be a scorer on par with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Honestly, I can't fault Sam Presti for trading for this guy in the short-term. Though it's hard to say where K-Mart wuill be 3 or 4 years down the road, if you needed an immediate solution for James Harden, this guy is it. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a guy better suited to the job. He doesn't bring much defensively, but neither did Harden.
Most of what I've seen of this guy personally indicates that he should fit in well with the Thunder. He played for some fast-paced Kings teams in the past, where he had to run the break. This experience will definitely help with the Thunder, where they love to get out in the open floor for a few easy slams. During his last few years in Houston, he was extremely adept at getting to the line and shoots a crisp 86.5% at the line for his career. Again, this is right in line with the Thunder's offensive strategy, as they're top of the league when it comes to free throws.
If you can put the injuries and misconceptions aside, you might see that Kevin Martin could be a very dangerous option for the Thunder.
Jeremy Lamb was this year's 12th pick out of UConn, who lost in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament. He was, however, the main man in the back court for that team, and teammates with fellow lottery pick Andre Drummond. His main asset is his astounding length, as he has a 6'11" wingspan that I'm sure Sam Presti is salivating over.
Anyway, let's look at what BD34 of The Dream Shake had to say:
"Jeremy dominated the summer league showing a variety of fluid offensive moves and the ability to abuse his defender. I, for one, have never been so excited to watch NBA Summer League. I was captivated watching Jeremy weave in and out of defenders, get his man off kilter with his first step, and to see his feel for the game. Watching Lamb you get a sincere feeling that he just steps on the court and knows how it’s going to be. He was in control of his body, used his length to create separation from his defenders, in many instances showed some great athleticism and aggression, and picked his spots to score at will. His perimeter shooting was quick, crisp, and even when off-balance, completely fluid. The knock on Jeremy coming into the NBA was that at times he looks disconnected with his game and even uninterested at times. What the tape reveals is a kid so natural on the floor with ice in his veins and in command of what needs to happen. To me, that's not a lack of passion, that's a lack of mercy. The mechanics of his game are fantastic and that’s what I was watching for. Numbers can be deceiving, the nuts and bolts as to how you got those numbers is the critical point."
Here's a short snippet from Andrew Porter over at The UConn Blog:
"He was a key component of a championship team as a freshman and with UConn barred from next year's NCAA tournament going pro makes sense. He has the height, length and most importantly skills required to compete at the next level and is expected to be chosen somewhere in the back half of the NBA lottery. He's just the third fourth UConn player to declare for the draft after his second season as a Husky, following Caron Butler Charlie Villanueva and Rudy Gay."
Honestly, I don't watch too much of the college game, so I can't give you any super-awesome insights into Jeremy Lamb. But I can tell you that he's a legitimate shooting guard, and one I could see filling James Harden's role as soon as next year. (Or, you know, as soon as Kevin Martin goes down.) I mean, NBA Draft.net compared him to Reggie Miller, while the other shooting guards were compared to Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, and Eddie Jones. He was also pretty solid in the Summer League, going for 20 points per game while shooting 46% and grabbing 4 rebounds.
However, I do think that this guy is a project, and we won't see his potential pan out for a few years. The downside about him is that I don't think he's terribly athletic (he can jump long, but not high), so he's going to be mainly relying on his length and skills to get him through. And while he does an excellent job of working on and off the ball and playing help defense in the paint, his shot isn't very consistent. He's also prone to losing the ball and fouling too much on certain nights. No matter how you slice it, this guy's got room to improve, but he definitely won't be James Harden right off the bat.
4. The Picks
This pick is Top-20 protected until 2017. As I understand it, that means that the Thunder will only get the pick if the Mavs finish in the Top 10 of the NBA over the next 5 years. Basically, the pick isn't ours unless the Mavericks are a 5 seed or higher in the next 5 years. And even if we do get it, it will be at best the 21st pick.
Honestly, the Mavs probably knew what they were doing when they traded this pick. Though the current iteration of the Mavs stands a chance of doing well this season, even the most hardcore of Mavs fans will probably admit to you that they're a high seed longshot at best. Their franchise cornerstone is old, and their best hope for the future seems to be a guy named Jae Crowder. In other words, unless something revolutionary happens to the Mavs, this pick is probably fool's gold.
This pick is pretty strange in how it's protected, but this one is a guaranteed pick. I'll break down where the pick will need to land in order for the Thunder to recieve it that year. In other words, if the Raptors land within the designated range, the Thunder get the pick. If they don't land there, the Raptors get the pick and we move on to next year.
This pick is interesting, because it almost guarantees that the Raptors won't lose a shot at a franchise player. However, it also guarantees that the Thunder will receive a lottery pick at some point over the next couple of years.
Honestly, this pick will probably come to us within the next two years. Though I wouldn't put it past the Raptors to do badly enough to win the lottery this season, it's extremely rare for a team to strike gold twice. And no, I don't think they're a playoff team right now. In other words, you're now allowed to start licking your chops at all of the draft prospects again.
The biggest glaring issue that come up in everyone's minds is the depth chart. How will this affect everything? Well, here's a quick breakdown....
SF: Durant/Jones III
But in practice, I suspect that Thabeet won't be getting a slew of minutes. If anything, I see Scott Brooks giving minutes to Jones and Durant at Power Forward and going small. Honestly, it gives the Thunder the best of both worlds. Kendrick Perkins is still there to guard us against the Dwight Howards of the world, and Thabeet can function as an emergency backup if the Thunder need to play big. It will also help them become less susceptible to mismatches, which is one of the main reasons why the Thunder lost the NBA Finals.
The Roster Spots
There's also the question of what the Thunder will do with the two extra spots on the roster. At this point, it's hard to say. The Thunder already officially cut their training camp invitees earlier yesterday afternoon, so it would seem like an odd move to immediately re-sign them. But I wouldn't put it past them to throw Hollis Thompson and/or Daniel Orton back on the roster.
There's not much to pick on the 66ers right now, as most of the talent the Thunder stashed there has moved on. Robert Vaden, a sharpshooting 2009 second round pick, is now playing for Telekom Baskets Bonn in Germany. Latavious Williams, a 2010 second rounder, is now playing for Brose Baskets, also in Germany. Ryan Reid, another 2010 second rounder, is apparently available, but he isn't currently listed on the 66ers roster. Larry Owens, Jerome Dyson, Elijjah Milsap, and Longar Longar are former training camp invites that are apparently available, but I wouldn't really count them as signing priorities for the Thunder at this point.
As far as foreign assets go, it would be highly unusual for the Thunder to try and grab a guy this late in the game. Tibor Pleiss, the #31 pick in 2010, is currently tied up with Caja Laboral in Spain. They still have Yotam Halperin, but, uh, he's not coming over.
The Thunder still have one unsigned free agent from last season. Yes, Derek Fisher has still not been signed. Yet the chances of him returning to the Thunder are remote at best, with Eric Maynor back from injury and the Thunder absolutely loaded at guard.
It would make sense for the Thunder to look for a big man. Unfortunately, the free agent market is bone dry at this point. Most young guys have already made alternative arrangements (like signing in Europe, where the season has already started). Left remaining are mostly washed up old guys who the Thunder probably want no part of. You want names?
Well, the best guy would probably be Chris Andersen, who doesn't exactly look the part. (Though I'd love to see OKC's reaction to his signing.) After him, the list mainly consists of dudes on the brink of retirement, if you take out everybody who ran to China and Europe. In the way of big men, Ben Wallace, Troy Murphy, Erick Dampier, Kenyon Martin, Brad Miller, Mehmet Okur and Tony Battie are all available. Any of those guys would have been fantastic options 5-10 years ago, but the most viable guys from a strictly basketball point of view would probably be Martin and Okur.
What's most likely to happen? Honestly, huge deals don't usually happen right before the season, so it's a rare and unusual situation. No players have been cut really, there's no D-League stars yet, and the remaining free agents are at the bottom of the barrel. If past moves mean anything though, the Thunder will probably hire from within, and stick to the young folks.
The Backup Point Guard Situation
The addition of Kevin Martin will probably solve the point guard situation, as he isn't nearly as adept of a passer as James Harden was. With the Thunder needing someone to handle the ball, Eric Maynor will probably get the nod for minutes at backup point, since Reggie Jackson was mostly in the conversation as an off-ball threat next to Maynor.
Kevin Martin is Expiring
Yes, it's true. Kevin Martin is signed to about 12 million this year, but he's an unrestricted free agent after that. Basically, that means he's extremely valuable to anybody willing to cut cap. Could a package of him and the Raptors pick give the Thunder another star?
It's hard to say at this point. The Thunder are looking to lose salary themselves, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them let his contract expire at the end of the season. But at the same time, if the Raptors are firmly planted in the lottery, I could see this package raising some eyebrows at the trade deadline. At this point, it's all speculative.
Will Kevin Martin Hog the Ball?
I don't know, ask him. He was reported as saying, "Oh my gosh! Feels like a dream. Words can't describe it." Yeah, I don't think he's going to hog the ball. Granted, he is a scorer, and he's hasn't been in a situation where he hasn't been the number one or two option since his second year. But this guy has struggled on mediocre teams his whole career, and his willingness to play has never been in question. I'm not exactly thinking this guy is going to be a cancer.
6. Final Thoughts
What's interesting to think about is that back in June, one of the main rumors floating around was that the Thunder had been offered the #2 pick if they were to trade James Harden to the Bobcats. The rumor was that the Thunder wanted Bradley Beal, but Presti flat-out refused the deal. It's interesting to think about. Had Presti taken the hypothetical deal back then, would Beal have been a better value overall?
Also, in a certain sense, this trade is kind of a relief. Dealing with the Harden extension talk was nothing short of nauseating, and if he didn't sign, it was bound to continue on through the season. It would have been a constant source of criticism that we all became tired of hearing. You know, kind of like that Seattle business. Even if he did sign, there would be questions as to whether the Thunder could afford what they were doing. Hell, we would have had to deal with trade rumors up the wazoo had he not signed with OKC.
But with this deal, everything's done. Harden's gone. The Thunder are still young, with two of the best players in the game locked up for years to come. They've got Doron Lamb and Perry Jones to continue to provide chances for improvement. A solid veteran to replace Harden. Another certain lottery pick in the pipeline. The best part of this trade, in my opinion, is that it gives room for the Thunder to grow. They're not stuck where they were. They still have a legitimate shot at a title, and they've opened up the door for future domination.
Honestly, memories aside, how could anybody complain about this deal? I just don't see the angle. Cook and Hayward were easily replaceable. Aldrich and Harden are two good assets, but they pale in comparison to Martin and what is essentially two lotto picks. Kevin Martin, injuries aside, can and has been a better scorer than James Harden. That prospect on its' own is extremely tantalizing. Couple that with Lamb, who essentially makes Oklahoma City the longest team in the league, and a likely strong future pick can hardly make me regret this trade.
I know. You're saying that when we stand on the precipice of victory in the playoffs and we don't have James Harden to guide our team, I'll regret the trade. When Kevin Martin goes down with multiple injuries and we end up giving major minutes to Doron Lamb, I'll regret the trade. When Cole Aldrich becomes a double-double guy, I'll regret the trade. Yadda yadda. Yes, all of this could happen. But every trade comes with risks. And considering the trade's scale, I'd say these are acceptable risks.
Ultimately, you have to look at it and ask yourself, "Did the Thunder take a step back so they could move forward later, did they move laterally, or did they take a step forward to win now?" I can honestly say that the Thunder did two of those things simultaneously, and I'm not even thinking about moving laterally. I can't stress this enough. Kevin Martin is legit, and we got some amazing assets for the future. I'm straight up psyched.
How does Houston make out? Well, reports are saying that Harden is going to sign for four years, but J.A. Sherman raises an interesting point....
With Houston, Harden can be signed to a 5 year deal since they can name him as their 'designated' player. That makes him more valuable to Houston, so they should have to give up more for it. Harden could have only signed a 4 year deal in OKC.
In any case, it looks like Harden is now Houston's future, along with Jeremy Lin. Still, they probably won't be making any waves this year. They've filled out their roster with lots of minimum-contract fodder, and both of their forward spots are helmed by young guys who still have a lot of growing to do. Assuming that Asik, Motiejunas, or Aldrich pans out, this team could be very exciting to watch in a couple of years. Will they win any championships? Well, a lot of that depends on how well Jeremy Lin can helm his own team with the pressure on, whether their picks pan out, and what moves they make. But it's certainly possible, and I definitely think they made the right move here.
Getting back to the Thunder, I think the number one danger here is the health of Kendrick Perkins. I know that if Martin goes down we'll be in trouble, but if Perk goes down, especially around playoff time, then we're in serious doo doo. Perry Jones can't play as a true power forward or center, and the Thunder will most likely be forced to give 10-20 minutes a game to Hasheem Thabeet, if not more. And honestly, I just don't think he's that good. He's a liability on defense if he's not being posted up. He's not fast enough to play good help D. His offense is completely unrefined, and I wouldn't trust him to hold the ball if his life counted on it. Not to mention the fact that he managed to foul out twice in the Pre-Season, playing less than 20 minutes on both occasions.
However, this whole scenario is just a bunch of what-ifs. Assuming everything goes according to plan, this move was fantastic. And given Sam Presti's track record, detractors have little ammunition. This move was the biggest risk of his GM career, but a life without risk is a life without reward. And NBA championships.
What do you think of the trade? Am I out of my mind? Let your voice be heard in the comments!