The Oklahoma City Thunder preferred to get something for James Harden now as opposed to seeing him walk for free later. At least that’s the way it’s being spun in order for OKC to justify trading the most explosive scorer off the bench in the NBA.
Harden’s disappearing act in the NBA Finals didn’t help his cause and neither did the reported contractual objections he engaged in prior to being dealt. All in all it looked like this was inevitable.
So now the question most are asking is whether or not the Thunder has given away the X-Factor that could be the difference between defending their Western Conference crown or watching the Lakers in the Finals this season.
The easy answer is to wait and see.
It’s not like the Thunder traded away Kevin Durant. Nor did they get draft picks and cash alone in return. Rookie Jeremy Lamb has the look of a real asset in the NBA. His ability to play both guard spots in addition to a defensive prowess makes Lamb a suitable substitute for Harden. At least on paper.
Lamb will find it impossible to match Harden’s production. Let’s not forget Harden was a top 3 pick in the draft yet it took until his third year to settle in as a productive sixth man. Lamb will be fortunate to follow a similar arc.
As far as the Lakers are concerned seeing Harden head to Houston is welcomed. Anything to diminish OKC’s chances in the short-term works perfect for a veteran team like the Lake Show. This season is about winning…NOW.
Kobe Bryant needs to pull even with Jordan in ring count as his days are now numbered. Steve Nash is on his last legs with regards to title chasing. While Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace seek to further fill their resume as their careers come to a conclusion.
Anything that helps the Lakers in the immediate future is a good thing. Harden departing OKC is certainly one of those occurrences.
However I’m not so sure his absence alone equates to an easier path to another Downtown parade. Obviously Oklahoma City’s depth is lessened. As we learned from the departure of Lamar Odom, replacing a quality sixth man is near impossible. All that production went wanting for the Lakers last season so OKC should expect similar results in that regard.
Where this makes no difference at all to the Lakers is the fact that Mike Brown still doesn’t have a productive bench. Each of those 8 painful preseason losses reminded us of how thin the Lakers’ second unit still is. Matching the production of OKC’s starters is more feasible now but being able to maintain, expand or even take a lead with L.A.’s second five on the floor will still prove problematic.
The real problem is that we’re talking about an argument on paper. That’s the worst kind of argument there is in sports. Until we see these two teams on the court then all we can assume is that the Thunder is still the team to beat in the West. The Lakers, no matter how improved, are still out to prove they can take the Thunder’s crown.