The James Harden trade has given the Thunder a new look. Time to move on. How does the Thunder look with its revamped roster? This is what the trade means:
1. The Thunder will miss Harden, no doubt about it. He’s a better offensive player than Kevin Martin, his replacement in the rotation. Martin is a good offensive player, but Harden was among the NBA’s most efficient offensive players. And Harden is WAY better than Martin on defense. Harden wasn’t any kind of lockdown defender, but Martin is terrible. The Thunder will have to patch that together.
2. More Eric Maynor. I love Maynor, and I hope Scotty Brooks does, too. Since May 2011, we’ve only seen Maynor for nine games or so, so it’s hard to remember how efficient he was. But Maynor was very valuable as the backup point guard. A curveball to Russell Westbrook’s high heat. And playing with the B Team, Maynor’s strengths sometimes were negated by playing with Harden. Harden is best with the ball in his hands. So Maynor did a decent amount of standing around. That won’t happen with Martin, who moves well without the ball and isn’t so reliant on the drive.
3. More Thabo. Let’s hope this means that Sefolosha gets the fourth-quarter minutes that went to Harden. Having your best defender on the bench in crunch time never made much sense to me. Now, if the Thunder plays small, then both Martin and Thabo could be on the court together. Of course, Scotty Brooks could have played Thabo and Harden together down the stretch, say against Miami in the NBA Finals, but Brooks preferred Derek Fisher. A fatal mistake.
4. The amnesty-Perk brigade can disband. Getting rid of Perkins was a swell idea, so long as the Lakers would agree to never have a Hall of Fame center. But LA seems in the habit of trotting out dominant big men, so how the Thunder proposed to beat the Lakers without Perkins was a mystery to me.
4. Trader Sam is back open for business. Armed with three new draft picks and an expiring contract, Sam Presti again will be taking calls, both before the trade deadline and before the 2013 draft. Presti has been able to marginal pieces into prime assets. With a set roster, those days were gone. Now they’re back.
5. Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb will get the chance to blossom. Two intriguing rookies, both with abundant talent, will get the chance to grow in Thunderville. If one pans out, the Thunder is ahead of the game.
6. Financial security. If Harden had taken the Thunder’s $53 million offer, it would have been a stunningly aggressive move by the organization. I don’t know how OKC could have withstood the luxury taxes that would have ensued. The current roster is much more sane economically, plus it gives Presti all kinds of flexibility. The trade means it’s less likely that the Thunder will win the 2013 NBA title. The trade means it’s more likely that the Thunder is an NBA contender in 2018.
7. The Thunder will play small more and more. Going into a season with Hasheem Thabeet as your backup center, with no third-team center, means you’re going to play a bunch of minutes with no center at all. Serge or Nick Collison will play some center, with Durant at power forward. It’s a heck of a lineup if you can defend, and against most teams, the Thunder can defend that.
8. Team chemistry never has been an apparent problem for the Thunder. But if there was any tension, it’s lessened. This always has been Kevin Durant’s team, and then it became Durant’s and Westbrook’s team, and Harden, an Olympian and a great player and a fairly strong personality and a young man with serious aspirations himself, was certainly entitled to make his mark, too. But now, the Thunder is back to a team clearly defined by two superstars.