One of the most shocking moves of the NBA offseason occurred right before the 2012-13 season even began.
On October 27, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded dynamic guard and reigning Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden (along with Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook), to the Houston Rockets in exchange for guard Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-rounder.
Seeing as how the Thunder made the NBA Finals in 2012 and Harden played a key role in getting them there, averaging 16.8 points and shooting 49 percent from the field off the bench, fans, experts and even players responded with outcry.
ESPN's John Hollinger said that the trade wasn't bad, but still left many questions. Why did a pure defensive player in Serge Ibaka get an extension over the dynamic Harden? Why didn't Thunder GM Sam Presti just keep Harden for the 2012-13 season and then give him a max contract after using the amnesty clause on center Kendrick Perkins?
ESPN's Chris Broussard was not so welcoming. He went so far as to say that Oklahoma City got "worse" and that a deal was unnecessary.
While I like KMart & Lamb, OKC got worse. No need to make deal this season. Should've tried to win it with Harden.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) October 28, 2012
This season, Harden has silenced any and all critics by stepping up as the premier star of the Houston Rockets and putting the team on his back during their current winning streak. Houston has won five straight and seven of its last eight, and Harden has ruled the roost over that stretch.
Already ranking fourth in the NBA with 25.8 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field, Harden has been even more dominant over Houston's current run.
In his last eight games, the former Arizona State Sun Devil is averaging 28.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and two steals per game. His field-goal percentage has been an unbelievable 51.
The truth that his critics do not want to admit is that, in Houston, Harden is accomplishing more than he ever could have in Oklahoma City. Yes, the perennial playoff visits were nice, but he was always in the shadows of teammates Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and, based on his getting a contract extension first, Serge Ibaka.
In Houston, Harden is leading the Rockets on a playoff run that he can actually call his own. Houston GM Daryl Morey brought him in for that specific reason. The Rockets were not going to get back to the playoffs without a leader with plenty of experience there, and Harden's trip to the NBA Finals made him the perfect fit.
I mean, come on. Why else did he sign a contract extension so soon after arriving in Houston? He signed because he knew he could win with the Rockets and also be the alpha dog.
In doing so, Harden has become a superstar himself. He is the face of Houston's offense and his ever-improving on-court chemistry with point guard Jeremy Lin has played a key role in the team's recent run. His ability to create plays for other teammates is just the icing on the cake as to how valuable the man is to his new team.
Who benefitted the most from the James Harden trade?
Harden's critics have thus been silenced by how well he has performed as the main fuel in the Rockets' metaphorical ship this season.
Oklahoma City is still playing some fine basketball without him, and it can be argued that the Thunder ridding themselves of a playmaking sixth man and replacing that with a pure shooter/scorer has made them better.
On Houston's end, the team finally has the leader needed to get to the next level. Harden will take the Rockets there next year and there's no telling how high they will soar over the next five years.