Why Oklahoma City Thunder Won't Be Able to Replace James Harden

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent INovember 1, 2012

Mar, 16, 2012; Oklahoma City  OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) celebrates after a three point shot during the fourth quarter against San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

The Oklahoma City Thunder open their season on the road tonight against the San Antonio Spurs, and they'll have to do it without one of their key players from last year's run to the NBA Finals.

After failing to come to terms on an extension, GM Sam Presti sent reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets in exchange for guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. In doing so, he lost an irreplaceable player.

Although he only started seven of his 220 career games with OKC, Harden was the most electrifying player on the Thunder teams of the past three seasons—each one better than its predecessor. He had a knack for scoring in bunches and making his shots consistently, having shot 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from long range for his career.

Harden's play also earned him a devoted fanbase, who would come out in droves just to support him and the Thunder.

Now, in the blink of an eye, that's all gone as Presti and team management opted to trade Harden and get something in return rather than lose him for nothing. That alone is ridiculous, as he was set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season and the Thunder could have matched any offer under the Gilbert Arenas Rule.

Still, the fact remains that Harden is not in Oklahoma City anymore and the Thunder will have to make do with Martin as their new sixth man. He isn't a bad player by any means and brings a career average of 18.4 points per game with him, but the last thing he'll do is replace the man who made sure that opposing players and fans alike feared the beard.

On paper, some could argue that Martin is actually a better option than Harden. He is taller at 6'7" compared to Harden, who is 6'5", and can also do fine work from long range having shot 38 percent from the three-point line for his career.

On top of that, Martin's contract expires at the end of the season and if he does well in the first half of the season, he can be used as a trade chip. However, what if he struggles?

Martin is a talented scorer, but can he bring the same electrifying nature Harden did off the bench?  Keep in mind, he has started just more than 81 percent of the NBA games in which he has appeared and is thus more used to picking his own shots and taking control of the offense rather than having a role with specific plays drawn out for him.

This is where trading Harden will come back to bite the Thunder, as Martin has no idea how to be the type of sixth man coach Scott Brooks' system calls for.  What Harden did best was get himself open and consistently make his shots or drive the lane before unleashing a surprise dunk. Martin just isn't that type of player, nor is he that good of an athlete.

Most important of all, however, is how durable a player that Harden was. He did a great job of staying off the trainer's table, and the only major injury he suffered in his career was a concussion near the end of last season, thanks to Metta World Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Martin, on the other hand, is entering his ninth NBA season and has only played in more than 70 games three times.  This can be attributed to his skinny 185-pound frame that tougher defenders toss around like a rag doll.

While Martin may seem like an appropriate replacement for Harden, the Thunder just won't be the same without their bearded wonder. The points may show up on occasion, but the athleticism and enthusiasm won't ever be on the same level.

Given how Martin is an unrestricted free agent at season's end and there won't be any option for Presti to match any offers, the loss of Harden becomes all the more devastating.