After years of stacking a roster loaded with young, explosive talent, the Oklahoma City Thunder dismantled one of the NBA’s best three-man crews with the quick stroke of a pen.
The Thunder completed a six-man trade which sent 2012 Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets in exchange for premiere shooting guard Kevin Martin and rookie guard Jeremy Lamb, along with two future first-round draft picks.
Harden, one of the primary components the Thunder’s run to the Finals last year, often shouldered the load for a young Oklahoma City. Martin, who has often been the only bright star for losing teams, is a big-time scorer but has never piloted or even rode shotgun on a mildly successful team. Who came out the victor in the biggest trade of the early 2012-2013 season? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate.
Green: I honestly think Kevin Martin is not only a fine replacement but can be considered an upgrade over “The Beard” for what OKC needs. Sure, Harden is the younger star with higher upside but OKC already has two young stars with great upside and a third youngster in Serge Ibaka, who continues to get better. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the clear-cut stars on this team. I like the addition of Martin that gives them a proven scorer without the hype and the insertion of Lamb, a young dynamo who could prove better than what people think.
Riley: There’s never an easy replacement for an Olympian and future All-Star. Harden was as dynamic as they come and has already lit the NBA on fire with 37-point and 45-point games, the third-most points scored in the first two games by one player in NBA history. From his ball-handling skills to his long range jumper to the slashes to the basket, Harden gave OKC a blend of what both Durant and Westbrook already do, he just did so in the best role possible for him on the team. It’s a clear loss for the Thunder.
Green: Harden only averaged 17 points per game last year and I don’t want to hear “but he came off the bench.” He played 31 minutes per game—those are starter-level minutes. Martin averaged 31 minutes himself and, although he was the No.1 option on his previous team, he never took more than 15 shots per game and still poured in 23 points per game, a career-high. It’s about efficiency for me, more so than the big name, and he’s already proven he can fill Harden’s void by averaging 17 points per game after two contests. This is easily the deal of the year for OKC.
Riley: No, it’s more like the biggest loss of the year. If the Oklahoma City Thunder were expecting to get back to the Finals, then they wouldn’t have made this trade. You don’t make a blockbuster deal before the season starts and bust up chemistry. They wanted compensation but I think they should've just waited until the season was over and dealt with the consequences.
Green: They made the deal because they had no choice. Sure, they wanted to keep Harden; heck, I wanted them to keep Harden, and I’m not even a Thunder fan. But Harden wanted money over a ring. In a league where two-time defending MVP LeBron James sacrifices and takes far less money than he could have made in order to build a championship-caliber team, Harden chose the opposite route, opting to take the money and go to a losing ball club. Oklahoma City simply made the best deal available, replacing Harden with a one of the best scorers in the league—who, by the way, has racked up about four assists per game, the exact same amount, if not more, then what Harden contributed last season.
Riley: Harden is one of the best shooting guards in the NBA and that's not going to be easy to replace. You don't substitute that kind of talent for a B-list fringe starter. Martin and Lamb may be a nice consolation prize, but the Thunder just cashed in their championship dreams with an unnecessary trade.
Green: If anybody is B-list, it’s Harden. Let’s not forget how bad he stunk it up in the Finals against the Heat last summer. While Westbrook and Durant, elevated their game, Harden’s production declined, as he put on perhaps one of the worst choke jobs in NBA Finals history. As for Martin, so far he has done everything Harden would have done, and OKC hasn’t missed a beat because of him. This looks like the same championship contending Thunder team from a year ago: they have the same strengths, and the same weaknesses. Look for them to reach the Finals again in 2013. Only this time, a veteran scorer like Martin won’t let OKC down when it matters the most.