Lost in all of the drama surrounding James Harden's sudden and surprising exit from Oklahoma City is the exciting youth movement taking place on the Thunder bench.
As the reigning Sixth Man of the Year departs, Jeremy Lamb takes up a spot on the second unit and gives Scott Brooks another viable playmaker off of the bench, something Oklahoma City lacked all season long. Harden was obviously the spark plug and star, but there wasn't much depth around him, and it forced the Thunder to rely on their starters more heavily.
Now, Lamb comes to town and will form an important relationship with promising rookie Perry Jones III, a dynamic playmaker who will grow into the type of player that Harden has been over the past three seasons. While Oklahoma City will inevitably deal with the growing pains that come with a rookie's transition to the NBA, it certainly gives the team much more upside than was expected when looking at the roster a week ago.
This change won't happen overnight, as it isn't easy to replace someone as valuable as Harden was to the Thunder, but with a roster as experienced, battle-tested and talented as the Thunder's, it gives Brooks time to mold Lamb into the type of leader on the floor who can stand up under the intense pressures of a playoff run.
Obviously Oklahoma City will only go as far as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can take them, but it's the role players who can swing games and playoff series. Last year, the Thunder found themselves with a second unit that was solid, but ultimately unable to change the game in a meaningful way outside of Harden.
Now, in the blink of an eye, Sam Presti has flipped a valuable sixth man who will command much more money than he's worth into a fresh start for the roster.
Not only do the Thunder have Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka locked up for the foreseeable future, they have a proven shooting guard, salary flexibility and, most importantly, two young rookie playmakers who represent an exciting and dangerous Thunder bench.
This deal represents a major speed bump for Oklahoma City's most valuable asset, its chemistry, but in the end, it's a short-term setback, and the ability to have two promising rookies coming off of the bench brings a promising new dynamic to the Thunder roster and helps the franchise reload for another playoff run.
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