The Oklahoma City Thunder delivered a major blow to its backcourt on Saturday night, and provided its Western Conference rival, the Houston Rockets with a crucial lift, trading away James Harden just days before the start of the regular season.
According to an ESPN.com report, the Thunder sent reigning Sixth Man of the Year Harden to the Rockets along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward. In exchange, Oklahoma City acquired Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second-round draft pick from Houston.
The shocking blockbuster trade took place shortly after Harden declined an extension with OKC, according to the ESPN.com report:
...sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein late Saturday the Rockets intend to sign the swingman to the max contract extension he was seeking before Wednesday's midnight deadline. The Thunder offered Harden $55.5 million over four years -- $4.5 million less than the max deal Harden coveted and will get from the Rockets, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.
But now that Harden is officially a Rocket, where will he fit in the Houston backcourt?
Let's take a minute and break down how the Rockets' most recent acquisition will impact their 2012-13 season.
Jeremy Lin Factor
One of my biggest concerns about James Harden in Houston is whether he can coexist with new Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin. Although Harden is listed as a shooting guard, he did some of his best work in Oklahoma City with the ball in his hands.
Harden's ability to drive, kick or finish with either hand made him a deadly sixth man with the Thunder, but can he do all of that with Lin on the floor?
ESPN's Jemele Hill is wary of a Lin-Harden back court as well:
A Jeremy Lin-James Harden backcourt....yeah, I'm going to need to process that.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 28, 2012
On the other hand, InsideHoops.com is a fan of the two stars sharing the same backcourt:
Jeremy Lin + James Harden = crafty, fun basketball. #Rockets— InsideHoops.com (@InsideHoops) October 28, 2012
If the Rockets insist on bringing the fourth-year star off the bench this season, then he will thrive as a score-first floor general, but otherwise his style will clash with Lin's and the one without the ball will be relegated to a spot-up jump shooter.
Boost From Beyond the Arc
Houston was already a solid three-point shooting team before the Harden trade, but they should be brilliant this coming season with the addition of a player who shot 39 percent from deep last regular season and 41 percent from downtown during the playoffs.
Expect the Rockets to be among the highest-scoring teams in the league (Houston ranked ninth in 2011-12) once again in 2012-13, as well as toward the top in field goal percentage and three-point shooting.
Harden's offensive efficiency is what helped him win Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2011-12. He can score but do it on very few shot attempts. He averaged 16.8 points per game last season just 10.1 shot attempts per night.
Houston now has an elite shooter to play on the wings and a player capable of rebounding like a small forward and assisting like a point guard. No matter how well or poorly he meshes with Lin, Harden is a major boost for the Rockets on the perimeter.
I think you have to include the Houston Rockets on the list of Western Conference contenders this season after their acquisition of Harden. Sure, there are multiple questions that must still be answered, like will Lin perform? And can Harden become the Rockets' leading scorer? But there's no way Houston doesn't improve from this deal.
Harden is only 23, Lin is 24 and the Rockets are loaded up with promising rookies and young emerging studs. Kudos to Houston GM Daryl Morey for pulling this trade off. Regardless of the early-season bumps and chemistry adjustments, Houston is now a team lined up for inevitable future success.
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