James Harden: Breaking Down How Trade Impacts Western Conference Contenders

Alex KayCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2012

Oct 19, 2012; Tulsa, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) warms up before a game against the Phoenix Suns at the BOK Center. Thunder defeated the Suns 107-97. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

On Saturday night, James Harden was dealt from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets in a six-player deal that rocked the NBA landscape and significantly shifted the power structure in the Western Conference.

Because the shooting guard couldn’t agree to a new contract with his former team, the Thunder elected to ship him to Houston, giving the Rockets a legitimate star and a glimmer of hope in the process.

Did OKC kill its chances to repeat as champs in the West? Does this move make Houston a contender? Who was the main beneficiary of this deal?

The answers might surprise you, so read on to find out.


Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder went from favorites to win the West to a team that is now on equal footing with a number of contenders and may even be disadvantaged in certain matchups.

Last year, OKC blew through the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round, with large credit due to Harden and his ability to close out games by handling the ball and nailing clutch shots.

Once this team got to the Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs ended up giving them fits, but it wasn’t anything that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Sixth Man of the Year award winner couldn’t handle.

Now, the Thunder aren’t going to be able to waltz through the West. Instead, they are likely to meet real challenges against the Spurs, Nuggets, Clippers and, of course, the Lakers. Harden’s presence off the bench will certainly be missed and could amount to the loss of a crucial game or two—something OKC cannot afford in the spring.


Houston Rockets

Just a few short days ago, the Rockets were predicted to win approximately 30 games. That number will drastically shoot up when Vegas can recalculate what Harden’s presence means to the franchise.

Remember, this is a team that completely overhauled itself this summer, acquiring Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and a number of rookie first-round picks. They said goodbye to the last remaining veteran on the roster, Kevin Martin, in order to acquire another 23-year-old player.

However, this one is a proven star and three-year veteran. Harden will be consistently starting for the first time in his career (outside of seven games in spot duty the past two seasons) and finally getting a chance to prove he’s an elite NBA talent.

Will the Rockets make the playoffs because of him this year? More than likely not. However, this is a squad to watch out for and could become a real contender in just a few short seasons.


Los Angeles Lakers

A retooled Lakers unit is certainly benefiting the most, in the short term, from this trade.

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol this summer, forming a core that looks simply unbeatable if they are healthy.

OKC was one of the few teams that had the depth and makeup to challenge L.A. in the conference, but losing Harden is likely the end of that line of thinking.

Expect the Lakers to cruise through the West in the 2013 playoffs, making short work of an OKC team that doesn’t have the same identity without James Harden.