Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
"The Thunder just traded James Harden. Therefore, how on earth are they one of the most improved teams?"
You're likely thinking this. But, hear my argument before you bash me in the comments section.
First of all, while they lost Harden, they did acquire a hefty amount in return. Kevin Martin is a proven scorer with a career average of 18.4 PPG.
Now, he's clearly not a superstar-caliber talent like Harden, and he is also six years older. However, he is still more than capable of being an elite weapon off the bench for Oklahoma City. It honestly wouldn't be shocking to see him follow after Harden and win this season's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
What's more, Martin is also playing in a contract year, so he'll have every ounce of motivation to perform well this season.
Therefore, the loss of Harden hurts, but Martin is a fitting replacement. It's not like a washed-up Vince Carter is now stepping into Harden's role.
Secondly, the Thunder also landed Jeremy Lamb (as well as two-first round picks). Lamb, the 12th overall pick in June's draft, has major potential as a shooting guard. He led Houston's summer league team in scoring at 20 PPG.
Lamb figures to play a role as a rookie, even if it's not a major one. Overall, the combination of Martin and Lamb off the bench help offset the loss of Harden. In fact, their combined production will almost surely surpass what Harden provided last season.
Lastly, the Thunder can now focus on basketball and avoid the distraction of Harden's contract status. It likely would've been a buzzing issue throughout the year, and it's now been eliminated.
Let's also remember that while Harden is a high-quality player, he's not near as foundational to the Thunder's success as Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant. Remember when Harden disappeared in the NBA Finals last season? He's a proven talent, no doubt. But the Thunder can succeed without him.
And it's not like they just cast him off for a few average players. They added two quality offensive threats as well as draft picks. This move is enough to improve them in the here and now as well as down the road.
Losing "The Bearded One" will hurt the hearts of Thunder fans who fell in love with him, but believe it or not, this bold trade stamps their training camp as a success.
This small-market franchise continues to find ways to make steady improvements that point them toward a championship, and this preseason blockbuster was a prime example of that.