In one fell swoop, James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder have completely overhauled the power structure of the Western Conference.
The talented 23-year-old shooting guard has been dealt from the Thunder to the Houston Rockets, in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and several "significant" draft picks. The Rockets also receive center Cole Aldrich, forward Lazar Hayward and guard Daequan Cook.
Of course, while it's impossible to know who actually comes out on top in this trade until at least the end of the coming season (if not longer), there are always initial clear winners and losers in such blockbuster deals. Who comes out on top of this one?
Winners: Oklahoma City Thunder
Once again, Thunder general manager Sam Presti has managed to pull off an absolute coup— strengthening the core of his team and filling a need despite losing a key component from last season's NBA Finals team.
While there's no denying losing Harden's scoring touch and versatility is going to deal OKC a major blow, they get a ready-made replacement for him in the talented Jeremy Lamb. The sharpshooting guard showed an extremely deft scoring touch during his time at UConn, and while he struggled in a starring role last season, he won't have to run the team the way he was expected to lead the Huskies in his final season in Storrs.
What Lamb can do, and has always been able to do, is shoot, and shoot well from outside. In a supporting, scoring-centric role, Lamb will thrive.
But, Presti also landed a veteran presence in Kevin Martin capable of scoring in bunches at either shooting guard or small forward, as well as what are sure to be first-round picks. In other words, he's got more building blocks with which to add supporting cast members around his nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. If that doesn't make the Thunder winners here, I don't know what does.
Winner: James Harden
Sure, the talented 23-year-old is no longer a part of the hottest, most-talented young team in the NBA, but when you're getting a massive deal, like the one Houston is reportedly planning on giving him, it's hard to complain too much.
Houston plans to give James Harden a four year, $60 million extension once deal is completed, league sources tell Y! Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) October 28, 2012
On top of that, he goes from being a bench player and the league's best sixth man to a star contributor on a team that has plenty of dark-horse playoff potential. He'll likely have much more freedom to show the league just what he can do on a possession-to-possession basis than he ever had in Oklahoma City. And with the physical tools he's got, who knows what he'll be capable of?
Winner: Houston Rockets
How can the Rockets and Thunder both be winners in this deal, you ask? Simple: both teams effectively filled needs. Houston now has the consistent go-to consistent scorer they so desperately needed, as well as landing some size and depth courtesy of Aldrich, Cook and Hayward.
Add those components to the young talented nucleus already in Houston (Jeremy Lin, Marcus Morris, Omer Asik, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Jones) and suddenly, the Rockets look like an awfully good young team with the kind of upside coaches dream of. If they gel under coach Kevin McHale, the Rockets are built for title contendership for years to come.
(Possible) Loser: Daryl Morey
The Rockets GM just sold the farm in this deal—now he seems to finally have the team he's been trying (unsuccessfully) to put together for several years now.
With their combination of size (courtesy of Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas and Aldrich, as well as Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and Royce White), and scoring touch from the backcourt (courtesy of Harden and new point guard Jeremy Lin), the Rockets have their deepest, most talented team in years.
Morey had better hope they live up to the hype, because with the talent and picks he's giving up for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he's not going to be able to find much help via the draft in the near future. If things start slowly, or this team struggles to gel, expect to see Morey wind up being one of the first names on the chopping block, along with head coach Kevin McHale.
Morey has staked his reputation to this deal; if it flops, or Harden struggles, it will likely cost him his job.