After taking a few days to digest the Harden to Houston trade, I'm no less upset than I was on Saturday night. With the trade of Harden to Houston, Presti traded away almost certain title opportunities over the next 5 seasons (probably more). When is the last time a team had 3 of the top 20 players in the league and those players were all UNDER the age of 25? The answer is never. Houston was able to offer Harden the max contact he desired (5 years, $78M) and a shot at being The Man. Harden never demanded the spotlight in OKC, that's not what he wanted. He just wanted what he was worth. He already sacrificed numbers and a starting spot and now Presti wanted him to sacrifice the money he deserved. Hadn't he already sacrificed enough?
OKC is obviously a small market team, so there will be those that argue this all comes down to the plight of a small market and while there may be SOME truth to that (the Lakers would not have batted an eyelash at the luxury tax they would have had to pay to sign Harden to a max deal in part because of their $150M/yr TV contract, almost 10x what OKC makes on their annual TV deal), I call bull shit. OKC made $35M in PROFIT last year in a shortened season. According to Forbes, they are the 15th most valuable team in the NBA. That being said, their operating income is 5th highest in the entire league, so for those arguing that OKC's ownership is just ensuring that they get theirs, let me assure you, they are getting theirs on a nightly basis. If they would've re-signed Harden to a max deal, they would have been over the luxury tax cutting into their profit greatly, but it only needed to be for one year. At the end of this season, they could've amnestied an aging Kendrick Perkins or tried to find a trade partner for Ibaka (I'll visit Ibaka more later), so for those arguing ownership did not have a choice, you lose. Ownership had to take a cut to their profits for ONE YEAR (pending the right offseason moves) to sure up title contention for the next 5. While I understand sports are a business, by choosing profits, OKC broke up a trio the likes of which we may never see again. A trio that could have competed for championships for a decade. A trio that could have gone down as one of the greatest threesomes of all time.
In return for Harden, Presti acquired Kevin Martin, an established wing scorer who averages around 18.0 ppg for his career but does not play anything resembling defense, Jeremy Lamb, who averaged 20 ppg in the NBA Summer League but doesn't strike me as the superstar type, 2 first round picks, one of which may not happen until 2018 and a second round pick. No piece that was acquired will provide the spark that Harden gave off the bench and no piece will be pointed to at the end of the year as the reason the Thunder went back to the NBA finals. In fact, this trade will be pointed to after the season as the reason the Thunder lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The Lakers had no answer for Harden in the Western Conference Semis last year... I doubt they are going to have the same problems with Kevin Martin.
An angle that has not been talked about is the negative effect this could potentially have on the psyches of Russ Russ and K. Smoove. The Thunder should know first hand what breaking up such a tight knit group of players can do to a team. When OKC acquired Poppa Perk from the Celtics, what happened to Boston? They struggled. Not because they were dramatically less skilled as a team, but because Poppa Perk was the glue that held that locker room together. I'm not suggesting that Harden was the glue in OKC's locker room or that I think Russ Russ and K. Smoove will struggle this year, I'm just saying to keep an eye on the demeanor of OKC's remaining superstars. If I were either of them, I'd hold a bit of a grudge towards management for breaking up something so special for the dollar signs.
OKC is making an enormous bet on the maturation of Serge Ibaka's offensive game. I'm not saying that can't happen, but all the evidence we have up until now points to that process taking a long time if it happens at all. I understand that Ibaka provides unbelievable contributions on the defensive end, but he is a liability on the offensive side of the floor and anytime that is the case, you put an enormous amount of pressure on the other four guys. K. Smoove and Russ Russ can handle the pressure, but there is no longer a relief valve for when Russ Russ goes into one of his 0-8 slumps.
In a perfect world, Serge Ibaka's offensive game would mature quickly and Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb would develop into reliable scorers making Smooth J an afterthought in OKC, but I doubt thats how this will play out. While I desperately hope I am wrong, I fear that this trade will cripple K. Smoove's title chances for the next couple years especially with the emergence of super teams like the Lakers and the development of other teams like the Clippers.
Presti, I hope the boys prove me wrong or you will be my least favorite GM in sports.