Over the weekend, while members of the San Antonio Spurs did a little team bonding over some Halloween costumes, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets completed a trade that shocked the basketball world most because of timing. Harden and the Thunder couldn't come to a contract extension agreement and so he was very quickly traded, along with Daequan Cook, Lazur Haywood and Cole Aldridge for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin and two 2013 draft picks. This trade has short term and long term implications for not just the Thunder, but the other championship contenders around the league including the Spurs.
The 2012-2013 Season:
At first glance, this trade looks like a huge win for the Spurs as they look to overcome the team that stood in the way of their return to the NBA Finals. Harden wasn't the biggest problem for the Spurs, that was Durant, but he was a problem for sure. Who could forget this ridiculousness? So getting rid of the Thunder's answer to Manu Ginobili is a good thing for the Spurs. Harden's trade gives the Spurs pole position for the number one seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers and Thunder are both poised to have less than ideal starts as they integrate new players in to their system and in the Lakers' case, implement a partially new offense. Meanwhile, barring an injury, the Spurs should (should being the key word) start strong and allow their depth to carry them through the regular season at a near 60 win clip.
Does the Harden trade make the Spurs favorites against the Thunder in a seven game series? That remains to be seen. Yes, Kevin Martin isn't the playmaker Harden was for the second unit, but he can score. And he can score against Spurs. Last season, which was a down year for Martin in terms of scoring, free throw attempts and overall efficiency. Despite all of that, Martin still torched the Spurs for 24 points a game over the four games the team played, about the same clip as the year before.
Martin scores in different ways than Harden, so adjusting to Martin as the primary scorer off the bench will take some getting used to, but come playoff time his offensive production could equal Harden's in terms of raw numbers. Defense is a different story, where the Thunder will likely have to hide Martin, but that becomes easier if he's playing with the second unit. This isn't to say Martin will have Harden's impact, he probably won't, but Kevin Durant is only going to get better, so is Westbrook, and the Thunder shouldn't be overlooked come playoff time even without a key piece from last year's Finals team.
Even if you think this trade submarines the Thunder in the short term, it gives the Thunder an amazing amount of flexibility moving forward to build around the Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka core. Martin's $12.4 million comes off the books next summer, making him a valuable trade chip moving come February's trade deadline. It's conceivable Martin could be flipped for an extra defensive big like Anderson Varejao or some extra scoring from Al Jefferson or Paul Milsap. Additionally, they added Jeremy Lamb, a 2012 lottery pick, two picks likely coming in the 2013 draft and one of those a likely lottery pick. If there's one thing Sam Presit and the Thunder have taught us, they don't screw up high draft picks.
One of the best things that could've happened for the Spurs is the Thunder locking in Harden and being capped out moving forward with Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka. That would've made it tough for the Thunder to build a deep team around that quartet. Now, they'll have at least two members of the 2012 draft class, Lamb and Perry Jones III, both of whom have looked really impressive that are under rookie contracts for the duration of Durant's contract and all but one year of Westbrook and Ibaka's. Thanks to cap flexibility and trade assets, the Thunder just became the scariest team to compete against moving forward… again.
Photo credit: NewsOK.com