My immediate response and description of Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti’s trade of James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first round draft picks and a second round pick is that it was ninja-like — they killed Harden’s OKC career quietly and sneakily, and nobody really saw it coming.

Oh, sure, people were talking about a potential Harden trade for about a year, but surely nobody expected this to happen right now. After Harden reportedly turned down a four-year offer in the range of $53-54 million from Presti — an offer that was clearly of the “take it or leave it” variety — Presti must have called Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who apparently had an offer on the table and has been lusting after a max-level player ever since his Yao-McGrady duo failed to bear fruit.

This trade allows the Thunder to avoid losing Harden for nothing when he inevitably signs a max contract next off-season, replaces him with a dynamic scorer in Martin who is no Harden but averages more points per 36 minutes over his career than Harden scored last season (21.2 to 19.3), adds a promising rookie guard in Jeremy Lamb — who may end up with Martin’s sixth man job in OKC since Martin is an unrestricted free agent after this season — and some draft picks. To be clear, Harden is definitely a superior talent to Martin — aside from his more well-rounded game, Harden scored at a truly elite level of efficiency as a 22-year-old last season. He joined Amar’e Stoudemire (2007-08) and Steve Nash (2006-07) as players who scored at least 15 points per game with a True Shooting Percentage over .650 within the past decade.

Of course, it’s one thing to score at that level of efficiency when you’re the third option on a team, and it’s another thing to come close to that when you’re the first option, which he will be on the Rockets. Morey obviously thinks Harden is worthy of a max contract, or else he wouldn’t have made this trade. Whether or not Presti thinks Harden is worth a max contract is irrelevant, because the punitive measures of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in regards to luxury taxes must have forced his hand here.

In the immediate finger-pointing that is already occurring among Thunder fans in the wake of this deal, some people will deride Harden as being greedy while others will accuse Thunder majority owner Clay Bennett of being cheap. Neither side will be entirely wrong, but all of them should be considered a little bit unrealistic. It’s easy to pass judgement on a situation like this when it’s not your money, isn’t it?

What does this do for the Thunder’s title chances in 2013? Who the hell knows at this point? One thing that hasn’t changed is that the Lakers could stomp the Thunder in a Western Conference Final series if they figure out how to make their pieces work together. That doesn’t mean they will or they would have if Harden had played out this season in OKC, but let’s not pretend that Presti dashed a certain return to the NBA Finals with this trade. The Thunder remain a top-five NBA team and will most likely remain at that level for several seasons to come.

How this trade helps the Rockets in the long term remains less clear to me. Harden’s obviously an upgrade over Martin, but is he even a top 10 player? Looking strictly at their roster for this season, I think this trade simply makes them a better non-playoff team. One has to assume that Morey has designs on adding a second max-level player after this season. Someone like… Josh Smith, maybe?

A trade like this is always shocking, but once the initial surprise wears off it’s actually somewhat predictable considering the philosophies of the respective teams. There was no way Presti was going to be allowed to give Harden a max contract, assuming that’s what he wanted. And it’s well-established that Morey believes this is a star-driven league, and he just landed a star, in a manner of speaking.

At the end of the day, Thunder fans should keep in mind that it’s Presti’s job to be a businessman, and this is a business, man. As for Harden, we may never know if he would have accepted Presti’s final offer if he knew this would be the end result of turning it down. If that’s the case, there’s your reminder of what can happen when somebody at the other end of the poker table calls your bluff.

(Note: This trade was initially reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, because of course it was.)

Comments (94)

  1. OKC fans hating on Harden are idiots. Blame Bennett, cheap fuck.

    • Im not 100% sure this is completely about money. If the thunder were willing to give him 55.5 mill and pay the tax they would probably be willing to pay him 60 mill and the tax. However if during the negotiations it was clear harden had no interest in sacrifice and the betterment of the team aka Russ/KD/Serge then even if they were willing to pay the tax what if his attitude made them believe he isnt as good as a fit for the organization as we all believed.

      • That doesn’t fit with Harden’s character at all. He told Presti before he was drafted he was happy to be the third banana, and he was still talking about happily making sacrifices after the Finals.

        There’s absolutely no public evidence the Thunder were prepared to give him a max contract, and Bennet is a known stinge when it comes to money.

        • “He told Presti before he was drafted he was happy to be the third banana…”. That was a long time ago. A man has the freedom and ability to change his mind.

      • What sacrifice have KD and Westbrook made? They are getting max level money. Meanwhile Ibaka has a contact worth as much as the one offered to Harden.

        It seems to me Harden would be the one making the mot financial sacrifice by far. I don’t blame him for holding out.

        • Just need to correct this.

          Westbrook left 5% of the cap on the table. He could have (and was for a bit) pushing for a retroactively activating “Rose Rule” stipulation in his contract, which would have pushed his salary to 5% more of the total cap. Same as Durant, actually. And he left it on the table.

          Ibaka would have likely gotten a max contact had he hit restricted FA. Lopez and Hibbert both got them, and Lopez is a 7’0″ big man who’s allergic to consistent rebounding.

  2. Simply put, Harden overestimated his value to the team, didn’t think Presti would really trade him, underestimated Presti’s patience with negotiations and ultimately pushed his bargain too far.

  3. So it’s unclear how getting a proven top 25 (not being generous) player helps a team that was great at finding role players and couldn’t find someone really good?

    And yeah, it was very predictable. I mean, it’s not like everyone laughed at the IDEA of the trade any time during the season during the podcast?

    Anyway great job TBJ. Love all the podcasts. Will probably start reading the blog more. So happy basketball is back.

  4. Thunder majority owner Clay Thunder?

  5. Welp, Houston’s season will answer some serious questions about Lin and Harden’s true ability.

    If I’m the Rockets I immediately start work on my humorous promos. I’m thinking an odd-couple skit with Harden living on Lin’s couch. Jeremy quickly gets tired of James’ slovenly ways, but then sees the value in being a little more laid back. Lin grows a braided beard and they develop a signature handshake that ends in wise chin-stroking.

    T-Mac and Yao look on approvingly as the Rockets end the season 2 games out of the playoffs.

  6. Harden might not be a top 10 player now but he’s one of those guys in the league that needed relocation to breakout. I’m putting Houston in the playoffs, Harden in the All-Star game, and James to drop 20+ ppg

  7. nice Jay-Z reference there

  8. I wouldn’t label the Yao/McGrady duo as Morey’s. He became Rockets GM 3 years after McGrady was traded there. And, I think most offers are of the “’take it or leave it’ variety”, unless there’s another option I am unfamiliar with.
    Anyways, let’s see if James Harden breaks out as an All Star as most people have prognosticated him as had he not played with Durant and Westbrook.

    • “Take it or leave it” implies there is no renegotiation. Harden (or, much more likely, his agent) was expecting to renegotiate and get a higher price; at the very least Harden will make more money in Houston.

      The Thunder FO have shown they’re willing to trade players for decent value instead of overpaying them. I expect this to pay dividends for them down the road, as far as negotiations go… but are those dividends worth a potential lost championship now?

      • I think your reasoning is spot on. So many things have to go right to win a ring and a team only has control of a few of them. They were so close last year – who’s to say KD and Russ won’t get discouraged if they regress this year. Especially Russ.

        That said, this deal gives them a little dry powder for FAs next offseason since Martin’s contract is expiring.

        • If it was take it or leave Presti was/is an idiot. Thunder had a chance to win a title. Not happening now. Lakers fans couldn’t be happier I’d imagine. Just ridiculously stupid by thunder “braintrust”.

        • Pretty sure the Thunder will be over the cap even after Martin’s contract expires.

  9. And do the Raptors trade for Harden if the package is DeRozan, Ross, and draft picks?

    • Presti doesn’t make that trade, and Raptors don’t have the picks to make that trade. One of the picks the Rockets traded was the Raptors’ pick they gave up in the Lowry trade.

      • I didn’t think the Raptors had the picks to trade, laziness on my part. Good cal thoughl. Hypothetically if they had the picks, would Presti still turn the trade down?

      • I was thinking the picks were actually a significant part of the trade. They’re both first round, right? Could be a good source of cheap talent down the road. That can be hard to get for a team like the Thunder, who are presumably going to finish near the top of the conference for the foreseeable future.

  10. It all depends on how Presti feels about Martin and Lamb compared to DeRozan and Ross. If I’m in Presti’s shoes, I like the Rockets deal better.

    • Rocket deal is absolutely better. Martin can shoot 3′s and is an expiring. Lamb is better than Ross.

  11. Also, if the Rockets do give Harden 5 years / $80 M, then I think no reasonable person can really blame him.

    I like my coworkers but I’d leave their asses in a heartbeat for $10k.

  12. We all know what this is about: There can only be one Jeremy in Houston!

  13. I hate James Harden, he’s easily my least favorite dude in the league. I hate his guts, I hate his face na I hate his stupid beard. And oh yeah, I’m a lifelong Rockets fan.
    This is going to be a long season.

  14. People forget one thing. The Rockets are the marketing machine for Chinese fans. Harden is going to sell way more product playing alongside Jeremy Lin and being associated with the team Yao Ming retired from. You’ll see more than his max contract fall his way in Houston. OKC couldn’t afford him after they signed Ibaka to a big deal and kevin Martin is a shooter. He shoots like Stephen Curry. All in all a sensible move by both teams in my opinion.

  15. This wasn’t a bad move for the Thunder. Even though Harden was going to get a max deal from somebody, I don’t think he’s a max guy on a great team. He’s got great talent but has gone from a 6th man to the #1 option on a bad team. He may have taken the Thunder’s offer if he knew the extra million a year would cost him being sent to one of the worst teams in the league. Presti sold Harden at the height of his value so not a bad deal.

  16. Martin isn’t a bad player but he’s no Harden. KD, Rusty and James would have made OKC a top 4 team in the L for the next 10 years (Probable? Possible?). Either way, it’s a very strong core to a team.

    If I was OKC gm, I either negotiate with James until he accepts or put his name out there for a trade- surely, an ageing star player would take less money to be on the Thunder so he can challenge for a ring. Like what Ray Allen did.

  17. Hurts them on D

  18. next move for rockets: fire kevin mchale and get mike dantoni. if nobody thinks this team can make the playoffs in the brutal west, maybe they can at least let the young guys run? good pick and roll point guard and a metric shit-ton of athletic forwards. let em play dantoni style

  19. I know Daryl Morey is considered one of the best GMs in the league but this offseason it seems like he’s making bad move after bad move. He seems to be trying to get headlines only. Thunder fleeced the Rockets and now they have the ammo to get back to the finals this year and make moves to get a top 10 maybe even top 5 pick in the draft next year. Hardens metric stats are overblown because of being a 6th man going against the second team. Morey better not be done because if not he made all these moves and staying right where he was last year. Just outside of the playoffs.

    • He just picked up the third best shooting guard in the NBA for Kevin Martin and some kids.

      Morey made out like a bandit.

      • How can you be the 3rd best if you don’t start and now he doesn’t have kd or westbrook to help with spacing and getting open looks. Harden might have better stats than last year but efficiency will go down. He has a chance of becoming maggette like. Good stats on a bad team. He hasn’t shown to make the people better around him. The people around him have made him better tho.

        • I hate this argument. So what he doesn’t start? He plays more minutes than Thabo. Was Ginobili merely a bench player? Fact is he is the third best player on a finals team. His impact on the team is on par with Bosh’s impact on the Heat

          • But Bosh isn’t making max money.

          • I like that you brought up manu. I would say the same for him as well. Getting good portion of your stats against bench players to warm up until the 4th quarter I feel doesn’t help either one of their cases of being a top sg (manu when he was in his prime). Being a starter and coming off the bench is totally different mindset. And when harden did start he and the team didn’t do as well. And manu stayed for less then he could get elsewhere. He knew not to leave a good thing.Harden will find out being the man on the team that is middle of the road is totally different then being 3rd best on a great team. teams will be able to adjust to him easier now

        • Schumann looked at the minutes KD, Russ, and Harden each played without one of the other 2 on the floor. KD and Russ were like under 100, Harden was about 450 – so almost ten full games worth.

          • what is this 100 and 450 thing your talking about? For the 450 who is Harden matchup with? How does Harden look when kd and russ aren’t on the floor and getting full attention?with these type of stats more than likely kd and russ are going against the other teams starters and matching up with the other teams better defenders, who is matching up with Harden on the other side(majority minutes against starters or reserves good defender or bad defenders) . If you have a link to this article it would be great to look at and see a full report on this

      • Morey gave up a lottery pick that is only top 3 protected in the first year, plus another first round pick. Even with Harden the Rockets will most likely finish the same they have the last few years, as a lottery team just outside the play offs. So let’s recap:

        OKC gets
        - A very solid SG
        - A prospect with a lot of potential
        - 2 first round picks, one being a potential high lottery pick

        Houston gets
        - Harden & some change

        Harden is a great player, the best in this deal absolutely, but I don’t agree he’s worth all that.

        • a very solid SG that the rockets were planning to flip anyways, and a prospect that is still just potential, but no where near James Harden’s potential, and a lottery pick dependent on the Raptor’s performance

          NBA is sadly where one really good player trumps the value of 3 good players, instead banking potentials alone with Lamb and lottery pick, Houston pick someone that has a little bit of a track record on NBA sucess

  20. Methinks Harden had the Rockets deal in his back pocket when he refused the OKC offer.

    • He may not have known it would be with the Rockets, but he knew he’d get a 5 year max extension from somebody.

  21. Man I’m a huge Harden fan and this is a shock. After rejecting that 4yr-$53mil deal I knew things were gonna go downhill, but not this fast. It must really suck for his teammates, aka Russ, who took less money in order for OKC to be able to sign him. I thought Presti would still at least try and get another championship run out of Harden, but you can’t really blame them for making this deal. As much as I love Harden, he’s yet to prove he’s a max player and last years Finals didn’t help.

  22. Am I the only one who likes this trade for the Thunder?

    1) They get to resign Maynor now.
    2) Kevin Martin is a great scorer. He’s expiring, so they can trade him later in the season for more assets if they want.
    3) Lamb is a great prospect.
    4) The two 1st rounders will likely be lottery picks.
    5) They’ll have more cap flexibility, especially if they amnesty Perkins at some point.

    Harden is great, but every other player was willing to sacrifice $1-2million/year for the team. And that is fine if Harden wasn’t. Players should get their money while they can, but the trade brought them a lot of assets in return. Honestly, I don’t think Harden is worth $15m for what this team asks him to do. He was the 3rd option that may have had his role limited by Maynor. I think the trade works out for both sides.

    • I agree mostly with what your saying but Perkins isn’t going anywhere now since Howard is with the Lakers.

      • Yeah, the Perkins bit is based off the Thunder finding another defensive center at a lower price. Perhaps one of their new 1st rounders…

    • I agree. I think people aren’t making a big enough deal about Maynor returning.

      Martin & Maynor coming off the bench could be a dangerous combo.

      • Yup. First thing I thought : everybody forgets about Maynor. Last year Harden had to run the show for the second unit because of Maynor’s absence. As good as harden playmaking is, it’s less essential for OKC with Maynor in the fold.

        • Meetings in the Maynor’s office just got a whole lot harder to book

          • Well, it appears Sam Presti might be making a visit to the Maynor’s office with Harden gone and Eric due for RFA this summer.

    • Dallas’ pick that was traded to them is top 20 protected until 2017.

      So yeah, it ain’t gonna be a lottery pick anytime soon.

      • Hmmm… didn’t hear about that at the time I posted. Toronto’s should comfortable land outside the top, but more than likely in the lottery. Dallas may go into a significant period of being in the lottery though.

        Still like the trade.

        • * “Toronto’s pick should land comfortably outside the top 4, but more than likely still be in the lottery.”

          Butchered that sentence.

  23. Fyi, it’s Cole Aldrich, not Aldridge. Sorry to be a spelling nazi.

    • No need to apologize. I’m usually better than that but I woke up and got out of bed to write this. Earlier in the comments, somebody pointed out that I had referred to the Thunder’s majority owner as “Clay Thunder”.

  24. The shame in this deal is that Harden is a better player yes, but more importantly WAY MORE ENTERTAINING than Kevin Martin. OKC watchability has dropped a couple notches.

  25. Welcome to the new effects of the CBA! We’re going to see a lot more vet minimum and rookie contracts actually shoring up rosters with less money to pay the so called superstars! Insane salaries are going to become a thing of the past over the next few years.

  26. Regardless of who was being greedy/cheap. Why wouldn’t OKC sign him to the extension he wanted, take one last shot at the chip with this core, and then ship him out to PHX/HOU/etc in the offseason?

    • It’s hard to move unless it’s sign and trade. But I think okc felt that they didn’t want to miss this deal on the table and get cap relief if Martin didn’t do what they expected. Martin has a really good chance to increase is efficency with finally being on a great team where he can hide on the offensive side and get wide open looks. Plus with what others have said they get to keep the other guys on the team that they value as well and not leave it to chance.

  27. Lamb was also a huge pick up and wouldn’t be surprised if he flourished with okc

  28. First why trade him now? he won’t be a free agent till July 1!! I am sure Durant and Westbrook love playing w Harden and would have talked him into taking less money! did you even talk to Russ or KD about the situation? OKC Management you just traded away a player that has a great future? you should feel STUPID!!

    • would your friends, who’s making more money than you, actually talk you into taking less money? I think in any normal circumstances, people would say you’ve been taken for a fool

      • KD & Russ left money on the table I believe…

        Also, I’m guessing Sam Presti doesn’t make a move without first discussing with KD & Westbrook.

    • Players lose trade value when other teams know you want to get rid of them. No one saw this coming.

  29. OKC will still be fun to watch, and the Rockets will be much more entertaining (though still not that good). As a fan of neither team, I’m happy about this trade.

  30. Mutually beneficial trade for both parties.
    Houston will get a decent player to build around with young pieces.
    Oklahoma will get the best value for him in the short as well as in long run provided that they didn’t have resources to make him stay otherwise.
    Totally win win situation imo

  31. The Thunder should have just amnestied Perkins and paid Harden.


  32. Harden is an example of why max deals make parody impossible in the NBA. Actually the league does well without parody so it’s ok. But, why should LeBron, Joe Johnson, and James Harden make roughly the same $? I would rather keep the cap but end the max salaries. So Miami could’ve paid LeBron 40 mil if he was worth it, but would’ve had to hive up Wade to do it, etc. As long as the current system exists there will be super-teams, and there will be teams like Houston that have to give 80 million to a 6th man to be relevant. As a huge Lakers fan the system works for me, but objectively, it is unfair.

    • That’s why the NFL’s system works so well. You can pay players big money, but you better make sure you’re paying the right guy, and not Mario Williams of Joe Johnson.

    • Parity. Unless you actually meant parody, in which case, well played.

  33. If I am a season ticket holder for the Thunder I am pissed. You drop a few thousand dollars for season tickets LAST year, and now they trade away one of their best players for a bunch of mediocre players because they can’t afford it? If they are saving all this money, they better not raise ticket prices 20% next year. (yeah right)

  34. As a Warriors fan, I am happy with this. A good team loses a star player, and a bad team gets one. parity, it’s what all of us Warrior fans keep hoping for…and never getting.

  35. As a raptor fan, I compare this trade to the vince carter trade and the bosh trade. Both of these players were way more talented then Harden. What OKC GM got for harden was a STEAL and a smart financial move, he also sures up the future with Perry jones and Jeremy Lamb, and has money to sigh someone else in the off season. This was a smart trade for both teams. Houston gets a rising star to pair with Lin and this attracts good free agents… I just wish the RAPTORS tried something.

  36. With the extra money and bling Harden will be getting in Houston, will he complete his transformation into Mr. T?

  37. Scottyy brooks youu owe me bigtime and I mean it!!!!!!

  38. Carefoot, you present a balanced approach in which you consider the needs and perspective of both sides (OKC brass and Harden). If only you could write like this consistently

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