James Harden is a Houston Rocket. Will the Thunder be better without him?

October 29, 2012

Deuces, OKC. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

While much of the East Coast was battening down the hatches to prepare for Hurricane Sandy on Saturday night, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award winner was digesting the news that he had been traded only five days before the start of the season.

James Harden is officially a member of the Houston Rockets, who completed a stunning blockbuster deal with the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder to land one of the league’s budding stars. Surprise, surprise.

“It happened so fast, it happened very fast,” Harden said Sunday after joining his team team. “But this is the position I’m in in now. Just have to make the best out of it. I’m with Houston now. I just have to come in here and play hard and win games.”

The Thunder landed guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb as well as two first-round picks and a second-round pick in the trade. Houston also received center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward.

Oklahoma City had until Wednesday to give Harden a contract extension or allow him to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. After Harden reportedly turned down their four-year, $55 million offer (via ESPN’s Chris Broussard) in an attempt to land a max contract, the Thunder got proactive.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti acknowledged the decision was difficult, but these are the types of challenges that small-market teams face.

“We made several efforts to try to make this work,” Presti said at a news conference Sunday (via the Associated Press). “I think there’s a point in every negotiation where you start to realize where things are lining up, and at that point you have to play the hand that you’re dealt. I feel like as an organization, we’ve made some tough decisions. This one was right up there with them.”

The deal continues a major roster overhaul in Houston where the Rockets cut or traded every veteran player on their team. Harden, who said he expects to sign a long-term contract with Houston before Thursday’s season opener, joins a backcourt that features former Knicks Jeremy Lin and Toney Douglas as well as Gary Forbes, Shaun Livingston and Carlos Delfino.

In Martin and Lamb, the Thunder received two versatile scorers who should be able to ease the loss of Harden in the scoring column, although neither can match Harden’s defensive prowess.

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Matt Brooks | October 29, 2012