That’s what Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant had to say after learning that the Thunder had shipped reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, 2012 draft #12 pick Jeremy Lamb and two future first-round draft picks.
The sentiment is understandable, given that Harden has been widely considered the best young shooting guard in the league and a surefire superstar in the making. With a core of Durant, Westbrook and Harden, the Thunder expected to contend for an NBA title for the next decade or so. How does this trade shake things up?
It came down to financial reasons at the end, with Harden refusing to accept any extension lesser than the maximum (4 years, 62 million) which Houston (among half a dozen other teams) are reportedly willing to offer him. The trade is either a reckless foolhardy move or a courageous move showing great foresight – it remains to be seen. Kevin Martin, who headlines the trade for the Thunder, is a good shooter and scorer but remains a one-dimensional player.
While he has shot 37% from beyond the arc over his career, he hit only 34% of 5 three-point attempts per game last season. His Player Efficiency Rating, as well as Free Throws Attempted have fallen from his 2010-11 campaign, when he averaged 23 ppg, with a PER of 21 and 8.4 FTA as opposed to 17 ppg, 16 PER and 4 FTA last season.
What K-Mart adds on the offensive end he subtracts at the defensive end, with a Defensive Rating of 109 or worse in nine of his ten NBA seasons. Even on offense, K-Mart is nowhere near the caliber of Harden, who is legitimately a top-10 NBA player on that end. Lineups with K-Mart were outscored by 0.4 points per game, as opposed to lineups with Harden, which outscored their opponents by 5.3 points per game.
Since Harden played on bench lineups, the quality of teammates figures to even out between K-Mart and Harden, making Harden the much superior player. Harden was OKC’s best player (par Kevin Durant) by advanced statistics last season, equaling Durant in Win Shares per 48 minutes and ranking 2nd in the league in True Shooting Percentage (a holistic measure of a player’s shooting efficiency).
What is perplexing about this trade is that the Thunder could have played out the next season with Harden and traded him next summer, since Harden was their best shot at an NBA championship. Further, the Thunder could have signed Harden and amnestied Kendrick Perkins’ albatross contract, putting them under the luxury tax in 2013. Given the Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard, the Thunder decided that dealing size and muscle was probably not a good idea (though trading a future top-10 player is not a recipe for success either)
The Thunder are hoping to add by subtraction. The move is a massive gamble, since OKC are now counting on rookie Perry Jones and 3rd year point guard Eric Maynor to come up big next season. Maynor is a quality point guard who is probably most affected by the OKC trade, since the Thunder now have the financial flexibility to extend his contract.
OKC also get two first-rounders, including possibly Toronto’s #1 pick for next season (top-3 protected) which could well be a lottery pick. Even so, the Thunder just got worse (and significantly so) and are unlikely to make it to the NBA Finals once again. While this trade ensures future financial flexibility and relevance for the Thunder, they just lost an opportunity to build one of the greatest teams to ever play the game. And yes, the new CBA sucks.
Just when the Rockets offseason appeared to be a failure, GM Daryl Morey pulls a rabbit out of the hat. James Harden is not just a good player, he’s one of the best and most underrated players in the league. With Omer Asik, Harden, Lin and Chandler Parsons, don’t be surprised if the Thunder actually compete for 8-seed out West. The future is bright for the Rockets – after several years – since Asik and Harden are both advanced statistics studs whose value should increase with increased usage.
Harden’s Offensive Rating was off the charts last year (125 – good for 3rd in the league) and a Harden-Asik pick-and-roll should be devastating, given that Asik is among the best screeners in the NBA. James Harden posted astonishing stats last season for a player with a Usage Percent of 21%: 16.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.7 apg and 1 spg with a PER of 21. His scoring average will likely rise to the mid-20s given that he is likely to be running the Rockets’ offense. An even better stat for Rockets fans: Harden posted an adjusted +/- of 13.53 last season, making him among the best players in the NBA by this category.
Kevin Martin was on the last year of his contract and disinclined to re-sign with a rebuilding Rockets squad, so this is tremendous upgrade for the team, even if they did have to give up two first-rounders and intriguing prospect Jeremy Lamb in return. It should all be worth it, especially when The Beard hits his first game-winner in Houston next season.