James Harden Trade: Thunder Had No Choice, but Rockets Came out on Top, for Now

Suraj Sukumar@Sukumar_S87Correspondent IINovember 3, 2012

James Harden has started his career with the Houston Rockets in stupendous fashion. So much for defending the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
James Harden has started his career with the Houston Rockets in stupendous fashion. So much for defending the Sixth Man of the Year Award.Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

James Harden is on the brink of superstardom after just one week of the NBA season.  

In two games played with the Houston Rockets, Harden is averaging over 41 minutes, 41.0 points, 7.0 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. 

This comes after a blockbuster trade between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets—one which sent Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first-round picks to OKC in exchange for Harden. 

But wait, is it really that surprising?

The Facts

In 2011-12 with the Thunder, Harden averaged 31.4 minutes per game, while having to share touches with fellow superstars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the emerging Serge Ibaka. Harden still managed 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. 

For many teams that don't make the NBA Finals, these numbers represent a productive NBA starter—for the Thunder, they were numbers which earned Harden the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award last season. 

Since joining the Houston Rockets, his field goals attempted have increased from 10.1 to 22.0, and he's taking an average of three more three-pointers per game. While 41.0 PPG will be a difficult pace to maintain, Harden will surely stay up there with the NBA's best.

In addition, Harden was the last piece of the puzzle for OKC.

In the 2007 NBA draft, the Seattle SuperSonics (remember them?), selected none other than Kevin Durant second overall. The following year, the Thunder selected Westbrook eighth overall and Serge Ibaka 24th overall. The year after that—you guessed it—the Thunder took Harden third overall. 

Though Harden wanted to stay in OKC, the Thunder don't have space for a player of his caliber. The Thunder gave Westbrook a max, five-year contract, and signed Ibaka to a four-year, $48 million contract (h/t The Oklahoman).

So, where does that leave Harden?

The ultimate sign that Harden's days in OKC were numbered was when he rejected a contract worth $52 million for four years.

Though the contract was initially worth $52 million, the Thunder gave Harden the choice of $54 million or a trade to Houston. Harden was looking for a max, five-year contract worth $60 million (h/t Yahoo! Sports). 

Obviously, Harden was traded, which got him a contract of five years, $80 million.

The fact is: Harden was always worth more than OKC was willing to pay him.

He always deserved superstar minutes, and money, which is what he's getting with the Houston Rockets. 

The real question is: Did the Oklahoma City Thunder get the best value for James Harden?

Time will tell, but, advantage: Harden and the Houston Rockets.