In 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder ended a great season in the NBA Finals against the champion Miami Heat. Although the series count of 4-1 does not illustrate exactly how competitive the series was, it was more than obvious that the Thunder were about one move away from dethroning the Heat and capturing the 2013 title. Honestly, not many suspected that their supposed “championship move” would involve trading away the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden. But at first, this move seemed to make all the sense in the world as Harden disappointed Thunder nation by playing his worst basketball of the season in the Finals.
After seeing him do so poorly, people inside and outside of the Thunder organization took a quick eye test, closely focusing on his performance during the Finals and decided that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant could guide the ship themselves. On the other hand, the bearded ball player brought a lot to the table for this team. Harden brought those intangibles to the floor that you just cannot teach.
The starting point guard was of course Westbrook, however, the best option to run and control the team was Harden. Coach Scott Brooks loved the versatility of Harden. Most times Scott Brooks would bring Harden off the bench to run point guard for the first team, which slides Westbrook to the shooting guard. This allowed Westbrook to play his natural position and just look to score. Harden’s advantage was that he could still score just as well as anyone else in the league. He has a knack of getting to the rim and drawing fouls and becomes deadly as a three-point shooter. Brooks usually inserted Harden into the scoring role with the second team in which he also flourished.
So, was it really the best decision to have traded Harden to begin with? Let us evaluate this. Harden averaged 16.8 points per game, nearly 4 rebounds and about 4 assists off the bench. What separated Harden the most from other players coming off the bench in the league was his ability to show glimpses as a potential star at times. He is a strong guard that never plays selfishly and always keeps on the attack. He could spread the floor with his ability to also knock down the trifecta.
In the trade with Houston, the Thunder sent Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward to Houston for 2 first round picks, a second round pick, Kevin Martin, and Jeremy Lamb. The player projected to come in and fill in Harden’s position as sixth man was the awkward shooting Kevin Martin. Martin came in and the Thunder did not seem to miss Harden at all, as they captured the regular season number 1 seed in the West and Martin averaged 14.0 points a game.
Sports always find its way to work things out in the craziest of ways. After the trade and an 82 game season, the Rockets of course matched up with the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. This matchup gained a lot more attention after the first game due to a freak injury to Russell Westbrook. This injury caused him to be out for the rest of the playoffs and quickly mounted pressure on the bench and remaining starters of OKC.
One of the players that felt an immense amount of this pressure was Martin. He had to produce and now had to do it against his former team led by the man he replaced. Yet, many had not imagined this James Harden. Harden was the captain of the Rockets’ ship as he now averaged 26 points a game, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds with multiple 30 point games and two 40-point performances. Additionally, he also made his first All-Star appearance, joining his two former OKC teammates.
In the series, OKC barely made it to the second round by winning the series 4-2. Nevertheless, many questions arose due to the inexperience and lack of production from Kevin Martin. He struggled; it was that simple. He had average games, whereas Harden looked like the best player on the floor even when Durant participated in action.
However, average would not cut it. Without Westbrook, they needed big performances to help Kevin Durant and Martin struggled to close this gap. The Memphis Grizzlies bounced the Thunder out of the second round but each of the games came down to the final minutes. In reality, for those games to be so close without a top 5 scorer in the league is really not that disappointing. In the immediate present, getting put out of the playoffs in 5 games does look bad, but the bigger picture tells me that OKC will be just fine when they get Westbrook back from his first ever injury.
Ultimately, I believe that OKC made a great trade to bring in Kevin Martin. They will receive top level future talent with their first and second round picks. Let us also remember that Westbrook’s injury was the greater reason in why the Thunder took an early exit this year. Granted, many Thunder fans would probably want Harden back after his performances this playoffs compared to Martin’s (and ultimately because they loved Harden) but the Martin deal has a bright future. They were the number one seed in the West. Additionally, their win percentage increased slightly from the lockout season in which they reached the Finals. Harden loved OKC but I also believe he wanted to move on and show others the real and complete James Harden.
The trade worked for the better for both teams yet expectations are even higher now for the Thunder to reach the Finals again especially considering that the window has now closed upon the San Antonio Spurs’ chances of winning a NBA title. In conclusion, the trade seemed to work out really well, but hopefully next season the Thunder will be at full force and we can actually measure the real success of the trade.