HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Contract extension talk between the Oklahoma City Thunder and reigning KIA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden took a wrong turn somewhere. How else to explain tonight’s shocking news, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports and Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, that Harden has been traded to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, rookie shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, two first-round Draft picks and a second-round Draft pick?
The Thunder will also send Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to the Rockets to complete the deal.
This shakes up not only the Western Conference playoff chase but also the entire landscape of the league, what with the Thunder losing one of the most explosive scorers in the league as he enters the prime of his career. The Los Angeles Lakers remade their roster over the summer, adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a nucleus of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. And the Thunder needed to keep the core of a team that had home court in The Finals last season intact if they intended to hold off challenges from the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference crown.
But instead of fortifying their core group, they’ll have to reshape it without Harden, for reasons that Mayberry explains here:
The deal comes on the heels of negligible progress being made on a contract extension for Harden following nearly four months of negotiating. As a result, the Thunder parted ways with the fan favorite after stagnant talks made it clear Harden would be too much of a financial burden to keep.
If no deal was reached on an extension by Wednesday’s midnight Eastern deadline, Harden would have become a restricted free agent next summer. Houston is believed to now be ready to ink Harden to the maximum-allowable contract that Harden has long been believed to covet.
A report by Yahoo! Sports on Saturday said Harden recently turned down a four-year extension worth roughly $52 million. The report also was the latest to say Harden is pushing for a max deal, expected to be roughly $60 million over four years.
But with max contracts extended to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — as well as more than $52 million invested in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins over the next three seasons alone — the Thunder faced the possibility of stiff penalties under the new, more punitive collective bargaining agreement.
Making a move this drastic just days before the start of the regular season could cost the Thunder as well, as they’ll have to incorporate Martin and Lamb into their mix basically on the fly.
But Thunder general manager Sam Presti clearly had no intention of playing games with Harden with so much at stake this season for a young Thunder team that prides itself on the collective good outweighing all things.
The Rockets, led by an equally aggressive and fearless general manager in Daryl Morey, are also in the midst of reshaping their roster and can now pair Harden with a rising star of their own in Jeremy Lin in one of the most exciting young backcourt tandems in the league.
Stay tuned to HT and NBA.com for more details …