Revisiting the James Harden to Houston Trade

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James Harden is among the most popular and polarizing players in the NBA today. A series of trades have tainted the 10-time All-Star’s legacy to some, but after cementing himself as a three-point icon, Harden’s impact on the game can hardly be questioned. 

In recent news, the seven-time All-NBA guard has made news for his decision to decline a team option, allowing the Philadelphia 76ers to add depth to their roster. But today, we aren’t looking at the most recent chapters of the Harden story. Instead, let’s turn our gaze to the inciting incident, the big trade that got this story started in the first place. 

Revisiting the James Harden to Houston Trade

Where There’s Thunder

On October 27th, 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded one-third of their young core and reigning Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets. Coming off the heels of an impressive run that ended as Western Conference Champions, the Thunder were unable to come to terms on an extension with Harden. This was disappointing to fans, and the front office alike, as forward Serge Ibaka had signed a four-year, $49 million extension the previous year. Ibaka signed this a year early, potentially making it easier for the Thunder to re-sign Harden. 

Oklahoma City offered Harden a deal that was less than the maximum by approximately $5 million a year. Harden felt that he had sacrificed enough for the team by coming off of the bench and understandably declined the offer. Unwilling to plunge into the luxury tax, the Thunder felt forced to trade the then 23-year-old. If only the front office had known of the upcoming 2014 television deal, the fate of their franchise could’ve changed forever. 

Houston? They Had a Problem

Do you remember Linsanity? Daryl Morey likely does. After being cut by Houston, Jeremy Lin would take over the NBA world for a month while playing for the New York Knicks. This outburst was enough to land Lin a three-year, $25 million offer from Houston. At this point in Rockets’ history, the cupboard was all but barren. They had moved on from Kyle Lowry and Marcus Camby earlier that summer, and Morey was looking for a new star to build his team around. 

Houston wasn’t rich with assets, but they had acquired an additional first-round pick in the Lowry package. The Rockets had also just drafted three young players in the first round (12,16, and 18 overall) and could include one of them in a deal as well. All they needed was a team willing to make a deal. 

Grading the James Harden Houston Trade

The final deal saw Harden sent to Houston along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward. Oklahoma City received 12th overall pick Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, two future first-round picks, and a second-round pick in return. 

Oklahoma City Thunder Grade: D

There isn’t a lot to boast about for the Thunder when looking back on this one. Martin and Lamb never amounted to much while in Oklahoma City. Regarding the three draft picks, only the 2013 selection of Steven Adams is noteworthy. When considering how close this team was to the promised land and then adding the fact that Harden’s requested maximum was around $16 million a year, it is hard to see this as anything other than a massive failure for the Thunder. 

Houston Rockets: A

It’s undeniable that the Harden era in Houston was something special. He was an All-Star in each of his eight full seasons and averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. The Rockets made the playoffs every year that they were led by Harden. While the big one always eluded them, Harden’s Houston run was something special. Morey’s move to land the future NBA 75 shooting guard will go down as one of the best in league history.