Fiction: I'm planning to break down the trade in segments because it's the first outright trade due to the new CBA. OKC is a "small market team" defined by the size of the media and population in the area. The main sticking point of the NBA lockout was the competitive balance of big and small market teams, most specifically the ability to spend. OKC has long stated they "cannot afford" multiple max contracts for the heavily punitive luxury tax. The ironic part to me about this is the tax was meant to restrict the big market teams from overspending, but it the small market teams that are getting pinched. I believe OKC would have made the money back from a Harden contract in playoff shares and road revenue, so they should have bit the bullet on this one.
Harden wanted to leave.
Fiction: I believe Harden wanted to stay and was willing to take less money. If early reports are to be believed, the difference was about $1million a season. When that happens, the agents are driving the imbalance. All of Harden's previous interviews and case studies lead me to believe that he was comfortable as the #3 guy to KD and Russ, and as long as he was fairly compensated ($55.5 over 4 is pretty fair) he would be fine. Harden now becomes the #1 guy on a Houston team desperate for an identity. Being an Alpha dog is more mental makeup than actual skill, and does Harden have the mental makeup? We shall see!
Houston has a good nucleus now.
Fact-ish:Jeremy Lin and Harden are interesting to say the least. And their meshing will determine Houston's future success. Jeremy has game. He can shoot, slash, and likes crunch time. Harden has a gold medal, Finals experience, and likes to play crunch time minutes. Their flaws are also obvious. Lin is a slasher PG and can't really create unless he jump-passes in the lane. Harden is about as streaky as anyone, throwing up 2-for-17 games frequently enough that you have to panic. Harden is definitely an upgrade on Kevin Martin, who is purely a shooter-scorer. But unless Lin and Harden both achieve superstar basketball status, this will be another treading-water type move, which is a shame because Daryl Morey is an MIT guy! And we MIT guys are always right!
Fact-ish: He will WANT to thrive. I can understand why this trade was good for him. With KD and Russ, he can pull a Ray Allen and shoot open 3s. He's a good slasher and excellent FT shooter. What he lacks that Harden brings is the ability to create for others. I think he will work hard because...he's in a contract year! He'll be auditioning for teams (I don't think OKC re-signs him unless he takes a mid-level type deal). What this means for OKC...
OKC got a good haul for Harden.
Fact: But that's not the real issue here. What value do you put on chemistry and likeability? Say whatever you want, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden played well together and liked playing with each other. Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward were effectively throw-ins. In the short run, this will hurt OKC a little. IN the long run...I don't know. If Perry Jones III steps his game up big time, the Martin/Jones/Eeric Maynor combination will likely make up for Harden, and that's not assuming Lamb plays well (which he will). This trade bothers me because of the lockout itself and basically it shows that even if you draft well (remember, Harden and Westbrook were reaches and Ibaka was an unknown), you still can't keep a well-built team together. That's bad for the NBA.