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Thunder Wins In Harden Deal

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

So if you haven't heard by now, you must live under a very comfortable rock.

The Thunder sent shockwaves through the league Saturday night by announcing that James Harden, Lazar Hayward, Daequan Cook and Cole Aldrich had been shipped to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and three draft picks.

Tragedy, right?

Hardly. Oklahoma City hit a home run with this trade, and I'm going to tell you why.

To start with, this, or something worse, was going to happen eventually. Harden made it clear in the negotiation process that he wasn't willing to make the monetary sacrifice he said publicly many times that he would.

Sam Presti got the word from Clay Bennett that OKC wasn't willing to overspend for Harden, so Presti was proactive and did what had to be done. Considering the alternatives, this deal is a complete win for the Thunder. Harden could have played this season, taken the max contract next offseason and OKC would have been left with nothing in return. The Thunder also could have waited until next offseason, orchestrated a sign-and-trade with another team, but would have likely been forced to take a worse offer from another team, which Sam Presti alluded to in his press conference on Sunday.

It will be an odd feeling Thursday night in San Antonio when Oklahoma City opens its season without the man known simply as "The Beard." But it's important to understand that the pieces the Thunder added will not only help this team in the future, but also keep them as the current Western Conference favorites.

First of all, Kevin Martin is a stud.

Martin has been a consistent 20 points per game scorer since 2006 until he struggled through some injuries last season. To be exact, here are some of Martin's career numbers: He has a career 18.4 points per game in 31 minutes while shooting 44 percent from the field. He holds a 38 percent mark from 3-point range and his free-throw percentage is in the upper 80s.

Now let's compare those numbers to Harden's career numbers.

Harden holds career marks of 12.7 points per game in 27 minutes with a shooting percentage of 44. Harden shoots 37 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the free-throw line.

So to compare, Martin and Harden have the same shooting percentage and same 3-point percentage, but Martin is better from the charity stripe while scoring six more points per game in only four more minutes per game.

Oh, and keep in mind, Harden's efficiency numbers come as the third option, where the defense is focused on stopping Durant and Westbrook. On the other hand, Martin has led his team in scoring every year since 2006. His efficiency numbers have come as the first option, where defenses have keyed in on him. What's Martin's potential once opposing defenses finally give him the space they gave Harden?

Now I want to be perfectly clear. Harden is a more well-rounded basketball player than Martin because of his ability to handle the ball and distribute it to teammates. The thing is though, Eric Maynor is back, and he can handle those duties for the second unit. All OKC needs Martin to do is score the ball, and that's something he does as well as or better than Harden.

Secondly, Jeremy Lamb could be the future.

The rookie wingman was a standout-player in his two seasons at UConn because of his scoring and athletic abilities. Watching Lamb play, I actually see a lot of similarities to a young Kevin Martin. He's a rangy and athletic swingman who can attack the basket and shoot for a high percentage.

In fact, Lamb's college numbers are very similar to Martin's. Lamb shot 48 percent from the field, 35 percent on 3-pointers and 80 percent from the line. He also averaged 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists.

Martin shot 46 percent overall, 35 percent from downtown, 84 percent from the stripe while averaging 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Eerily similar.

Combine the talent and potential of Jeremy Lamb with that of Perry Jones III and Oklahoma City has two potential key cogs for a long time. Throw in the two first-round picks that were included in the deal, and the Thunder's future is looking mighty bright.

Perhaps the best way to feel good about this is to look at it from a business standpoint. Think about this: In 2014-15, assuming Houston extends Harden with a max contract, they will be paying Jeremy Lin (a turnover machine with 25 career starts) and Harden an approximate $30 million dollars combined. In that same year, the Thunder will be paying Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant approximately $35 million. In other words, Houston, you have a problem.

Now I ask you, with only a combined difference of $5 million, which combo would you rather have?

Bennett and Presti had to make a choice, and they chose to not pay a max deal to their fourth-most important player. Instead, they took a stand, and also happened to acquire pieces that promote organizational ‘sustainability', a word that Presti used frequently Sunday to describe the goals of this franchise.

Meanwhile, Harden must go face the harsh reality of the pressure and expectations that come with a max contract, while battling for a playoff spot with a very pedestrian roster.

Harden had his chance to stay, but he didn't find it worth it. Winning clearly wasn't No. 1 on his priority list, because if it was, he would have ordered his agent to come to terms. But as Presti said Sunday, sometimes "you have to play the hand that you're dealt."

OKC is all-in.

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