Y!’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s fascinating account of how the deal took shape:
Before sitting down a final time with Pelinka, Presti became more serious in his discussions with Morey. Houston wanted Harden badly, believed he would evolve into a transcendent franchise star for a championship-caliber team and planned to award him a five-year maximum contract worth nearly $80 million. So, Presti laid out what he wanted for Harden and the original price was steep: Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lamb and three first-round picks, including Houston’s own in 2013.
The Houston Rockets’ Jason Friedman:
In the pick-and-roll, Harden is downright devastating. Last year he ranked in the league’s 97th percentile in such situations according to Synergy Sports, generating 1.06 points per possession. By the way, that’s better than LeBron James, Chris Paul and Steve Nash. Let that sink in for a moment. And when you recover, please realize that Harden isn’t just someone who excels at creating offense for himself; he’s also a deft passer plenty capable of generating scoring opportunities for his teammates as well.
Whether you are opposed to the deal or not, one thing is clear: the Rockets have altered the very foundation of their franchise in a stunning trade which has altered the landscape of the Western Conference. The Rockets have their cornerstone; the Thunder have taken a decided step back in their pursuit of the 2013 NBA title.
When I awoke this morning, I had temporarily forgotten the news: you know how when something big happens the day before, it doesn’t really sink in as permanent for some time? Then it hit me. The Rockets had traded for James Harden last night. I’m still not sure how I feel, but regardless, this is huge.
All morning, I scoured the web, scrolling through my Twitter feeds, weighing reactions from the trade. (How did my predecessors cover the NBA without Twitter?) For me, a Rockets blogger, this was an exciting, gutsy deal; for those on the Thunder side, this wasn’t just a trade – this was losing a family member. And that’s what I find so fascinating about trades in general, specifically when they involve contenders dealing key pieces. When the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins, Danny Ainge traded the young boy that Kevin Garnett had raised into a man and trusted to help him win a title; there were almost tears. Thunder fans are in similar shock. For them, it’s not just about whether this was good or bad for the team. They lost a family member. That’s what’s hard to understand as a Rockets fan. For us, Kevin Martin, and Jeremy Lamb are just names with no more emotional value than the terms “future draft pick considerations” and “mid-level exception.” We have a roster full of pieces that just fill spaces on a sheet of paper; how Oklahoma City feels is how we felt when Otis was traded, but maybe much, much worse.
Thunder fans thought they had a trio in Harden, Durant, and Russell Westbrook, all in their early 20′s, who would rule the NBA like a dynasty for the next decade. After a defeat in the Finals last year, they had taken their lumps. Like that it’s all gone, without ever having even gotten a chance for resolution. What might have been? As a fan of the McGrady-Yao Rockets, I will never shed a tear for anyone – OKC at least got to cash in their departed at full value. But still, this is painful.
Setting aside the emotions, I do think Presti made out well, at least from a position of seller in distress. Martin gives the Thunder a dimension they haven’t had, and I do think he’s become extremely underrated over the past few years. Lamb should develop nicely in a set environment. But they’ll tremendously miss James Harden’s playmaking.
For the Rockets, over twelve hours have passed, I’ve sifted through countless opinions, dug into my own internal thoughts, and I still don’t know how I feel. I’m definitely excited. But much of that is the irrational urge for immediate gratification. Right now, I’m the kid who is just enjoying having broken his piggy bank and spending his allowance at the candy store when just depositing the spare cash in a savings account would have brought more fruit at a later day. I’m ecstatic we finally have a young star to cheer for but in the back of my mind, I remain cautious: was this the right move to cash in so soon?
Assuming arguendo that the best case occurs and the team trades more chips for Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, can that team (Harden-Lin-Asik-Parsons-Aldridge) compete with the Heat or Lakers for a title? No. And that’s my problem here. It just seems like the team has once again maxed out its potential, once again turning to that familiar path in the middle. They’ll be a playoff team for years, but after going for another quick fix, they’ve once again killed off their chance to build something really, really good. The hope was to hang on to these parts, get really bad this year, and add even more parts next summer, building a foundation through the draft. That can’t happen now.
But of course there’s the flip side: what was the likelihood of Toronto being bad? (And believe me, the Rockets have run such probability analysis in weighing their risk.) Maybe you add two more Marcus Morris’ next summer…and then what? Maybe you have to go for the bird-in-hand, even if the ceiling for that option is lower than the one of an alternative.
What’s more, look at the last three NBA drafts. Only Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving you’d prefer over the 23-year-old Harden. The latter is decidedly preferable to 2010 prospects John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. So in many ways, Harden is the draft pick that you had hoped to get, but might not have ever gotten, wasting years in the process in hopes of being bad enough to land that low.
I think that many times–and I’m more guilty of this than anyone–we think that without a Chris Paul, Lebron James, or Kevin Durant, nothing else is worth it. But we forget that those players are transcendant, generational stars. It may be the case that you must have one of those types of players to win a title. But in a cutthroat corporate setting, when a team can’t even land broadcast of its games on any of the major cable providers, it might be too Utopistic to say “nothing else will do.” Harden isn’t Chris Paul but how many years could you sit and wait hoping to land someone like the latter? You have to move when jobs are at stake.
The Rockets will now have to build their team in the Memphis model, having no route to acquire a bonafide superstar. The good news though is that with Lin and Harden, they’ve simulated the impact most desired from a superstar: shot creation.
To put it simply, a ‘superstar’ is preferred over a ‘super team’ because when plays bog down at the end of games, teams hand the ball to one primary decisionmaker and allow him to go to work on his own. Those Kevin Martin baseline cuts stop working when the defense is better keyed in. In Harden and Lin, the Rockets now have two of the very best in the entire league–outside of the core elite–at making decisions on their own outside of a set offense.
Now the Rockets turn to finding more parts. Asik-Parsons-Lin-Harden is an enviable quartet. But the team can really set itself up long term with a keeper at the ’4′. The discussion the next few months will surround the topic of finding that man. Ironically, the team’s four remaining rookie prospects (if counting Marcus Morris as essentially a rookie) play that very position and two of them (Motiejunas and Terrence Jones) showed much promise in the preseason. Maybe they won’t need to trade and the rookies will give them the production and future projection they desire? Either way, after last night’s stunning acquisition of James Harden, things got more interesting for the Rockets and things are starting to look much more clear.