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Oklahoma City Thunder: Evaluating the James Harden trade in a new light

COMMENTARY — The Thunder's decision to trade James Harden worked fine, until Russell Westbrook got hurt. Critics who insist Sam Presti should have played out this season with Harden have new ammunition. Here's why they're still off base.
by Berry Tramel Modified: May 15, 2013 at 8:22 am •  Published: May 14, 2013

If you're tired of missing Russell Westbrook, mentally worn down from wondering what might have been, here's a change of pace, Thunder fans.

Go back to missing James Harden.

Remember when the biggest Thunder mystery was how Boomtown would fare without ol' James in the postseason? Seems so quaint now.

Now we know what real trouble looks like. Kevin Durant spent last spring leading the Thunder to the NBA Finals with the help of two co-stars. Now he's trying to survive the Memphis Grinders with the help of no co-stars.

So finally, the camp that declared Sam Presti should play out the season without a Harden trade has collected ammunition.

It's not that the Thunder needs three stars to win an NBA title or even contend for the same. It's that the Thunder needs two.

Which you could well see as the Thunder struggled to dispatch the pesky Rockets, much less these saber-toothed Grizzlies.

We all learned Westbrook's value in the eight games since the infamous meniscus — hey, that almost rhymes — injury.

But so, too, have we discovered Harden's true value. Elite depth.

Harden would have provided quite the replacement for Westbrook. Then Scotty Brooks would have had to find a replacement for Harden's sixth-man role. Which is not easy, but you'll find moon rocks on Mars easier than you'll find a decent sub for Westbrook.

Kevin Martin, for example. Circle K has averaged 15.5 points a game against the Grizzlies, while shooting 40.7 percent from the field. Not great.

But Harden in the 2012 playoffs averaged 16.3 points and shot 43.5 percent from the field.

Martin hasn't been a bad Harden. But Martin is no Westbrook, in terms of production or anything else.

The genius of Harden's game is that he was a pristine role player who could rise to star status, as he occasionally did with the Thunder and absolutely he did once given his own stage.

If the Beard still veered through Thunder Alley, it's easy to see him rising up into the Westbrook role. Not with the same style, necessarily, or maybe even the same production. But close. As we saw in Houston when Harden went from third wheel to first.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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