Harden’s Stand Is Houston’s Gain

Credit: ESPN.com

You can call it a comeback.

The Houston Rockets finally scored their big fish, landing James Harden from the financially-prudent Oklahoma City Thunder, along with some backup quality talent, for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks (one essentially guaranteed in the lottery) and a second-round pick. Harden will likely get the max from Houston, which the Thunder refused to offer.

Harden brings a second perimeter force to the Rockets, one with much more of a track record than new teammate Jeremy Lin despite coming off the bench for all but 7 career games. He provides a devastating combination of offensive creation and efficiency matched by few others in the league – he finished fourth in the league in true shooting percentage last year, with two of the players ahead of him being Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak, two limited role players. He finished well over the all-star threshold in PER, with a 21.1 rating. And Harden led the Thunder in raw on-court/off-court numbers, according to 82games.com.

In other words: Harden was supremely valuable to the Thunder, and he should be to Houston as well. Oklahoma City’s low-balling of him – and that’s what it was, by the way, as his agent obviously knew teams would line up in a row to give him significantly more money than OKC offered – may have been partially forced by the CBA, but criticizing him for wanting millions of dollars more than he could have received elsewhere is absurd. That decision belongs to him and him alone. Moreover, OKC could have offered one more year and more guaranteed dollars, but they chose not to.

Suffice it to say, based on his production, I disagree with their business decision. While luxury tax issues are very concerning, they broke up a championship core one year earlier than they had to without significantly improving in any area. Martin, while renowned during his prime as an efficient scorer, never had a season as efficient as Harden’s last year. His skill-set seems redundant with Durant’s, but he’s worse and can’t defend anybody. I’m not sure he’s a good fit there. Lamb still has questions, though he could develop into a better offensive version of Thabo Sefolosha. And the two picks are very nice, but they likely won’t help this year, and they may not help matters down the line. There’s no question that this trade lowers OKC’s title chances this season, and possibly beyond.

So Daryl Morey took advantage, using his collection of assets to finally make the big move anticipated for years. While they *had* made one previously, it fell victim to the commissioner’s power of veto. While the Gasol trade would have made the team better, it’s not a coup on the level of Harden – Harden is significantly younger and can be kept under team control for at least the next 5 years. And the Rockets still have a ton of assets at their disposal – they can choose to let them develop and maybe compete in a few years or to swing another deal to make the team more competitive in the short-term.

Meanwhile, Harden and Lin form a dynamic offensive backcourt, with two players that can create for themselves and others equally well. Harden especially seems like an awesome fit in Kevin McHale’s offense, as the high pick-and-roll is the team’s go-to set. While Houston still needs a strong perimeter defender – Chandler Parsons may be that at some point – they have all the other pieces of a fantastic core for the next 3-4 years. While the Rockets may again just be a fringe playoff contender this season if they stand pat (they rarely do), the future now is significantly brighter.

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