James Harden, you are the biggest loser.
No, we're not talking about pounds shed. This is about a possible promotion spoiled.
The third-year guard looks to be the Oklahoma City Thunder player who stands to lose the most in this NBA lockout. Now that training camps have been postponed, and the entire preseason schedule wiped out, Harden could lose out on the starting shooting guard spot many believe should now be his.
Only time will tell which direction Thunder coach Scott Brooks goes in. But with the training and exhibition portions of the schedule axed, and the first chunk of the regular season possibly being canceled Monday, time is not on Harden's side.
If we've learned anything about Brooks, it's that he's huge on consistency and continuity. And keeping Thabo Sefolosha in the first five offered Brooks those two luxuries. They became his safety net.
But Harden's performance in last year's postseason proved his skills can no longer be confined to a sixth-man role or minutes.
Take the Western Conference Finals against Dallas for example. Harden emerged as the ideal buffer between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When the Mavs shut down the Thunder's offense by sending the house at Durant and Westbrook, it was Harden who could check in and immediately break down the defense. When Westbrook and Durant struggled to make plays, it was Harden who stepped up as a terrific third option.
In the regular season, Harden's presence in the first unit could help put an end to the Thunder's offensive droughts and the first- and third-quarter lulls that became so prevalent last year. In one stroke, Brooks could balance out his starting lineup with another perimeter shooter and better playmaker. It could take a tremendous amount of pressure off All-Stars Westbrook and Durant.
Brooks, however, has yet to declare Harden the winner of the starting job. For all we know, Brooks' plan for Harden may just be keeping him in the sixth man role as a way to always have scoring punch he can rely on off the bench.
But based on what we know about Brooks, the lockout might be making the decision for him. The Thunder, like every other team, lost nearly a month of practice time. That time would have been integral in integrating new players and new lineups. The loss of Oklahoma City's seven-game preseason schedule, meanwhile, killed the opportunity to iron out the kinks in dress rehearsals.
Now, when the season starts, it seems likely Brooks will revert to his comfort zone. In a shortened camp and an abbreviated preseason, the coach might again reach for that consistency and continuity.
It'd be a completely rational decision and one that doesn't have to stick for an entire season. Nevertheless, it's Sefolosha who now seems destined to be penciled in as the starter on opening night.
And that would have everything to do with the lockout and little to do with Harden.
By the numbers
A look at how James Harden progressed last season.