When using the perfect vision glasses of hindsight, was trading James Harden the right decision? As of now, no, but titles in the near future, with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka leading the ship, will change that view on the controversial transaction, with the Oklahoma City Thunder putting the model of the Miami Heat in front of them as something to follow.
When you lose to the best, one of the options is trying to emulate them. People may forget this now, but when the 2012 NBA finals came around, the Thunder seemed like slight favorites to win the title. Then games 2 through 5 happened, and all those talking about Kevin Durant being able to matchup with LeBron James in terms of taking over games of this magnitude were proven wrong, for the time being.
The Thunder found themselves in a situation with two max contract to Durant and Westbrook, with an extension coming up for James Harden, who was clearly a better player than his sixth man role confined him to, and Serge Ibaka, one of the best shot blockers in the NBA, very young like the rest of the core group, also looking for the same extension.
The result? The Thunder thought about the Miami Heat and thought about the finances. Having four players on max deals or close to that? Impossible for a team that wants to avoid paying the luxury tax, now and in the future. So the decision comes down to Ibaka and Harden. Seeing the James-Wade-Bosh dynamic work so well, the Thunder pulled the trigger in that direction: Two perimeter players, on paper, and a big man who loves to shoot from mid-range. Harden just didn’t fit the bill.
But it wasn’t just money (and the Thunder made Harden a pretty good offer). Harden wanted to be the star of the team, or something close to that, and not someone coming off the bench, even if it was for 30 minutes a night. That wasn’t something the Thunder could give him. He got traded to the Rockets, giving him that max deal, while the Thunder lost in the exchange.
With Kevin Martin on the floor they were the second best team in the NBA last season, have no doubt. With Russell Westbrook healthy, they would have probably been the favorites to win the West and create a rematch for the title with the Heat, although something was slightly off. Not in the numbers, but you could feel the Thunder weren’t as convincing as they were a year before.
Now Martin is gone, and the Thunder put their hopes on Reggie Jackson being able to become that third scorer from the outside. Other than that, they’re probably a weaker team than they were a season or two ago when you take a look at the entire roster. If Durant and Westbrook have continued to improve dramatically, than whatever Jackson or Lamb can’t give them will be made up for, hopefully.
Kendrick Perkins is always the question. Why wasn’t he amnestied? Despite the money being paid to him, the Thunder need him mostly for defensive and rebounding jobs. While there are plenty of centers who are better offensively, very few of them actually come at a cheaper price off free agency. He might not be good enough for a team that wants to win the title or justifying his salary, but he was better than the other options laid out in front of them.