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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.

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