In the wake of one of the NBA's most surprising trades in recent memory, winners and losers are starting to emerge from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets' deal to send James Harden to Texas.
When the season starts, it's Jeremy Lin who will be the biggest beneficiary of this trade. Using the talented swingman to help take pressure off from the enormous weight he carried as the savior of the New York Knicks, he can relax and assume his role as the point guard of the Rockets, not the savior of the franchise.
Lin and Harden are now manning the backcourt in Houston for at least the next four seasons. After Oklahoma City pulled the trigger on a deal to send the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a slew of draft picks, the landscape of the Western Conference could soon be shifting.
After declining an extension with the Thunder, Harden was prepared to test the free-agent market in the summer of 2013, when he would have looked for a max contract. But Oklahoma City wasn't prepared to see that happen without getting some sort of return on their former No. 3 overall draft selection.
He'll get his max money now, though, after the Rockets have agreed to extend his contract to the four-year, $60 million max stipulation that was agreed upon in the new CBA.
For those of you that haven't seen the trade on paper, here's a breakdown of what both teams received in the trade on Saturday night.
G Kevin Martin
G Jeremy Lamb (rookie)
Two 2013 First-Round Draft Picks
- Dallas (top 20 protected until 2017; Lamar Odom trade)
- Toronto (top 3 protected 2013-14, top 2 2015, top pick 2016; Kyle Lowry trade)
2013 Second-Round Draft Pick
G James Harden
G Daequan Cook
F Lazar Hayward
C Cole Aldrich
With the draft picks and young talent (Lamb) the Thunder got back in return, there's no doubt they've once again set themselves up for a bountiful future. Even in taking a step back this season, this OKC team could be the dynasty of the decade we end up talking about, not the Miami Heat.
Even so, it's Lin who is the biggest winner of this deal, especially in the immediate future.
Rush Hour 4 talk aside, Lin now has a considerable weight lifted off his basketball shoulders with the arrival of Harden to H-town.
It isn't going to be easy for Houston to mesh with each other, especially if coach Kevin McHale has playoff aspirations for his team. As NBA reporter Alex Kennedy notes, there isn't a lot of starting experience on this Houston team just yet.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Omer Asik are the cornerstones of the Rockets. A lot of potential, but they've started a combined 34 games.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) October 28, 2012
That's not to say this group won't benefit from the three biggest names to don Houston's uniform in quite some time. Management did a great job of recruiting people to play for the Rockets, and they weren't afraid to go deep into their pocketbooks for these three guys.
From a strategic standpoint, Harden helps Lin out just by being on the court.
Kevin Martin would have done the same, but the argument can be made that Harden is far superior to Martin in distributing the basketball. Both have excelled in isolation situations, but isolation and the NBA go hand-in-hand today, so that distinction does nothing to determine the immediate worth.
Lin was successful in New York because of pick-and-roll basketball and because he made things happen when plays broke down. Steve Novak and J.R. Smith benefited from his style of play because the defense is forced to collapse so far into the paint, and the three-point line is left wildly unguarded.
Who does that sound like?
I'll give you a hint. He's a former UCLA guard, plays for the Thunder and wears large, horn-rimmed glasses to start new fashion trends.
If you said Russell Westbrook, that is correct!
Harden was a beneficiary to that style of play, and despite early chatter that both of these men need the ball in their hands to score, Harden has been playing off of two of the world's most isolation-heavy shooters in Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Inside Hoops might have said it best when describing the new duo on Twitter:
Jeremy Lin + James Harden = crafty, fun basketball. #Rockets— InsideHoops.com (@InsideHoops) October 28, 2012
Not only can Harden play off of Lin, but they can even switch roles, as Lin became a valuable three-point shooter of his own during his time in New York.
Who is the No. 1 option in Houston?
From a leadership and skills standpoint, there's no question Houston has set itself up for a very exciting developmental process. First-rounders Marcus Morris, Royce White, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are all quality young bigs, and get the opportunity to work with a living legend in McHale.
Now, with Harden aboard, the team has experience at a key position in both the NBA Finals and the Olympic Games. Harden came up empty against the Heat in the finals, and was criticized for his performance, but was a key contributor on the 12-man Olympic team that won the gold medal in London.
Maybe most importantly for Lin, it lets him breathe a little bit as the team prepares for the regular season. Amid the Linsanity outbreaks and being the chosen one for the future of this franchise, he now can relax and just play his game, which is what made him successful during his 25-game unconscious streak with the Knicks.
This duo is going to be an exciting pair to watch. From Lin using his quickness on both ends to Harden finally being allowed to emerge as a No. 1 scoring option, there will be plenty of fireworks to keep an eye on in Houston in the coming years.
For once, though, those fireworks don't have to involve Lin.
That's a good thing.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for the Dallas Mavericks and member of Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team. For more NBA analysis and other sports news, you can follow him on Twitter.