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Thunder weaken title chances to save almighty dollar

Oct 28, 2012, 1:45 AM EDT

James Harden AP

Mark Cuban once said that there are two kinds of NBA owners: Those that want to win and those that want to make money.

We know where the Thunder owners fall.

Oklahoma City traded their Sixth Man of the Year and best playmaker James Harden — the guy with the sweet beard who often had the ball in his hands at the ends of games — to the Houston Rockets, along with Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and at least two 2013 first round picks.

Here’s why it’s a mistake for the Thunder — when you’re a title contender, you go all in to win now. These opportunities are too rare to take a step back. The Thunder just did that. The Thunder were one of the three NBA teams with a legitimate chance to win a title this season, and they got worse right now with this move. Not a massive step backwards, but it was a step. And in a West with the Lakers — and an NBA where the Heat got better — any step back is magnified.

The Thunder went from serious contender to “team that needs a lot of things to go right for them to win it all this year.” Two 2013 picks in the double digits (the Raptors are better than you think) is not a huge help in winning a ring. Not this year. Not for a contender. You can make the argument they are better in the long term if you want, I’m not sold, but they are not better this year. They still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they didn’t become bad, but they didn’t get better.

Kevin Martin can shoot the three and get up points, but since changes to how fouls are called — not calling a defensive foul on the offensive sweep-through move, for example — he is not the efficient machine he was. He’s not the same guy he was years before, and even if he was he’s more of a spot-up, isolation player. Harden was a playmaker

It will be on Westbrook to keep the ball moving in this offense now. The Thunder can tend toward isolation and that would make them easier to defend.

This was about all about the Benjamins for OKC. Harden wanted a max extension (around $58 million for four years) and turned down a $52 million offer from the Thunder. Oklahoma City didn’t want to pay a tax after two seasons from now that could be more than $28 million, that could give them a $100 payroll (with tax). So they made a trade. Now they avoid the tax problems. Congrats.

If you own and NBA team and you move it from the 22nd largest city by population and the 14th largest television market (Seattle) to the 30th largest city and 45th largest television market (Oklahoma City), you sacrifice potential income. And the Thunder knew the Harden price and tax when they made the Westbrook extension and gave Serge Ibaka $50 million deal this summer. The Thunder knew the cost, they just don’t want to pay it.

For the Rockets, Daryl Morey had been going after an elite star for a while, someone he could build a contender around. He struck out with getting Dwight Howard and others.

But is Harden really the answer? That’s the plan. I’m not sold. He’s certainly very good, but he and Jeremy Lin are similar in that both are pick-and-roll players. On a team that now needs to get a really good roll man. I’m not sure either Lin or Harden works as well off the ball.

But I get the logic of why the Rockets did this.They are a team than needs bold moves and this was that kind of trade for them.

For the Thunder, they looked to save money and were willing to make the team a little weaker in the process. And you can bet Kevin Durant is not happy about this.

  1. gpatrick15 - Oct 28, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    They basically replaced Hardens individual assets with a domination of a healthy Eric Maynor and Kevin Martin. Not as bad as it seems. Maynor can handle the ball when Westbrook is out of the game, and Maynor is no slouch. We all know the good and bad of Kevin Martin already. As long as the Thinder have Durant and Westbrook, they’ll be fine.

    • gpatrick15 - Oct 28, 2012 at 8:36 AM


  2. buffalo65 - Oct 28, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    This article is bang on….the raptors are gonna be a lot better than you think.

  3. nook3000 - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Why is everyone jumping on Harden for not taking less? Westbrook nor Durant took less money so why should Harden. Regardless how good you think he is or isn’t, he is considered part of, what many people consider, the best ‘Big 3’ in the NBA and he’s the youngest. Durant and Westbrook could’ve both taken less but they didn’t so why should Harden.

    • abchome - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:29 AM

      Westbrook did take less money, actually a lot less. He made all nba second team twice and could take up to $95m like Derrick Rose (mvp) and Blake Griffin (if voted allstar starter or all nba this year), but he took just $80m.

    • progress2011 - Oct 29, 2012 at 2:55 AM


      Westbrook and Durant are Elite, All Stars. Harden is a Bench Player.

      Since it appears you are not astute, pertaining to starters vs bench players…..bench players are not typically more valuable than the starters.

      A bench player is NOT a big 3….Big 3 refers to starters ! Bench is Bench !

      Durant and Westbrook did not choose to take less, which is their prerogative !

      I’m not jumping on Harden or you….just stating the obvious.

      • zerole00 - Oct 29, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        There was another article about why Harden coming off the bench instead of starting, and I believe the conclusion was this:

        It doesn’t matter who starts the game, just who finishes it. Even if Harden came off the bench, he was always in the game when the Thunder needed the talent.

      • progress2011 - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:33 PM


        You are right Zero. Harden was in the game a lot towards the end of games.

        Which is why they lost the Finals and were not competitive…..BECAUSE he didn’t show up !

        Probably because he is only a BENCH PLAYER….once LBJ and others concluded, he only has about 3 moves, his game was checked.

        Then he lost what confidence he had, and couldn’t make floaters, free throws or jumpers….Dude was “Self-Checked”.

        $52 Million for this dude would have been too much !

        He’s gonna be a starter now, in Houston…his game will be exposed and he will Shut Down.

        Facing other starters…He MIGHT average 12-20 pts a game….and I’m being generous.

  4. talkingfan - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    That was a BOLD move, it may pay in a year or two but I think they will be a different team without JH and not in a good way.

  5. mattryannolan - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    Maybe Harden just isn’t worth it people. As much money as these people make players and even a franchise are an investment and if they don’t see it worth the money you don’t do it sometimes. I would love to see all these wanna be GMs on here run a team and see how well their teams pan on out with all their money they are willing to spend max contracts left and right. This is a lot on Harden who figured 8 million and I’m sure some other things are more important than titles. Welcome to the NBA where titles are only as important as long as you make max money first. James Harden will love making that money while he plays for won of the teams that no one cares about because apparently to every idiot on here the Lakers and the Heat are the only teams that matter and according to an NBA guru that posted in this earlier, the Heat have already won. So why even play? Why even try? Why don’t you look at the state of the league and it’s players before you say anything.

    I don’t even like basketball. Why did I post this haha. Go ahead grill me.

    • mattryannolan - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      Oops haha one not won hahah

  6. raidmagic - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    He was so dominate in the finals, right? Watch Hardin this year without those great players around him and you will agree with this trade, he’s not a max player.

  7. 1972wasalongtimeago - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    Every city’s fans have been shown theor owners true colors in at least one of the major sports leagues. They dont care about ANYTHING but money. Except one. Until today. OKC fans just learned it. So did KD. So when he decides at the end of his contractvtobtake his talents elsewhere, don’t be surprised and/or outraged.

  8. philswfc08 - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    I think it is a good trade, he was gonna be gone and he isn’t that good either. Complete no show at finals, actually might have lost a few games for them. Martin can fill in nicely and the Durantula will pick up any slack. I think Jeremy Lamb is gonna be a real good player too. They are set up for now and for future…adding Lamb and PJ3 from this draft they are loaded with young upside! Plus the picks they got in this deal…they are the new Spurs basically.

  9. halfbaht - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Why is PBT trying to make OKC out to be the villain in all of these articles about this deal? Harden showed his greed, cared more about $$$ then winning. I applaud OKC for standing their ground and doing what is best for their long term future. They’ll still win a title before Harden does at Houston. Personally, I would’ve accepted their extension, stayed and tried to win a title then hold out for a couple million extra and get traded to the rockets. But hey, i’m a team player. Harden showed his true colours. Enjoy losing in Houston James.

  10. pavelfitzgerald - Oct 28, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    It’s okay Kurt, you’ve outed yourself as a OKC homer. Do you not remember last years finals? Harden was irrelevant.

    Yes it’s about the money. Thats what people get into business for – make money. All things considered OKC didn’t lose THAT much (Harden isnt worth a ma deal, nevermind the extra $ in the luxury tax). Martin isn’t the player Harden is but replaces his production (on paper) offenaively. OKC now has flexibility with both the cap & in the form of cap space to shore up defensively. I applaud Presti for taking advantage of the corner that Houston painted itself into after striking out this summer on Howard, Bynum, etc

    • metalhead65 - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      one thing you can never call kurt is a okc homer. there is no way the founder and president of the I worship the ground he walks lebron fan club is a okc homer.

      • jimeejohnson - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:47 PM

        I think you’re lying. Guys like you can’t handle the greatness that Lebron brings every night. Guys like you are jealous, hateful, LOSERS.

      • metalhead65 - Oct 28, 2012 at 4:04 PM

        you must be a member to I take it?

  11. KOBEshigawa - Oct 28, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    OKC can stay contenders, but only if Durant and Westrbook decide that they want to play suffocating defense. They can still outscore teams, but without a top-20 player in Harden, it’s going to be a lot harder. If the Thunder still want to contend, they’re going to have to change their defensive philosophy going forward. A decent haul in exchange for Harden, but i think this takes OKC out of the title hunt this year unless KD and Russ decide to make wholesale changes. I feel like they should have ridden it out and try to win this year: the goal is win a title, and when you have a potentially winning formula, you have to take advantage –

  12. billymc75 - Oct 28, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    Is Cuban running things there

  13. borderline1988 - Oct 28, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    Count me in as someone who doesn’t believe this trade is as bad as it’s being made out to be.

    Harden absolutely disappeared in the playoffs. Actually, he didn’t just disappear, he was a liability. He’s not a great defender. And I know the popular thing is to call him a ‘playmaker’, but he’s not an above average passer. He’s just an excellent scorer.

    Ultimately, this came down to Harden vs Ibaka. Ibaka played well in the playoffs, his offense is improving rapidly, and he can be a difference maker on the defensive end. Furthermore, OKC doesn’t have anyone who can really play the position/role that Ibaka plays. OKC also got back 2 picks, and 2 wing scorers in Martin and Lamb, so it’s not like OKC will be scratching their heads for players to fill the 2 position.

    I’m betting that Ibaka makes a serious jump this year – his jump shooting looks great, he will be a smarter defender, and he will learn to roll after setting a pick. If that’s the case, the Thunder will be a title contender even w/o Harden.

  14. spthegr8 - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    Good article Kurt!!!!! It’s the truth. They chose to save $. Too bad for Kd and Russ westbrook. Just when you think you can trust your front office. They let one of ur BEST PLAYERS go ( not to mention their best playmaker) ! I think it’s safe to say they aren’t happy!!!!!

  15. mytthor - Oct 29, 2012 at 1:00 AM

    Harden is overrated, Martin is underrated, Lamb is a better spot-up shooter than Harden which will help the Thunder, and they will get a good lottery pick from the Raptors, and basically 2 more first rounders out of it since the Bobcats’ second rounder will be 31 or 32. They might take a SMALL step back this year but if Westbrook and Durant and Ibaka can keep improving they may not take a step back overall, and they will be better in the long run for this.

    In my book they should have traded Ibaka and not extended him either, he hasn’t shown much growth in my mind, he’s still an overhyped athletic shotblocker with no other skills, he’s not even actually a good defender.

    • klownboy - Oct 29, 2012 at 10:29 AM

      Look, Harden’s no-show in the NBA Finals notwithstanding, he was still part of OKC’s Big Three. You just do not replace scoring like that.

      OKC has just given the Lakers and Spurs a shot at the Western crown now.

      • mytthor - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:12 PM

        Harden’s career high in scoring is 16.8 ppg. Martin’s lowest scoring season since his second year when he became a full time player was 17.1 last year, and he was bothered by an injury. He routinely averages 20+ a game.

        They didn’t replace Harden’s scoring, they improved on it. Martin’s a better shooter and a better scorer.

        They issue that they’ll have is replacing Harden’s playmaking. Maynor will need to play well, Westbrook will need to continue to develop.

        And they didn’t just give the Lakers and Spurs a shot, they already had a shot.

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