After failing to reach an agreement for a contract extension with last season’s Sixth Man of the Year, the Oklahoma City Thunder opted to trade James Harden to Houston, changing the complexion of the 2011 Western Conference Champions.
“We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin’s caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team,” said Thunder GM Sam Presti in a statement via ESPN.com.
Harden was the biggest piece of a surprise deal that also sent Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to the Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two-first round draft picks and a second round pick.
The Thunder were engaged in negotiations with Harden since the beginning of training camp, but could not meet his desired salary. With his unrestricted free agent deadline approaching, the organization decided it needed to test the market and see who they could get for the young guard.
“We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved,” said Presti. “Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers.”
The loss for Oklahoma City is obviously significant. Harden averaged 16.8 points and 3.7 assists in 2011, a year in which he also was part of the gold medal-winning USA team at the Olympics. Although the Thunder will surely miss Harden, they acquired some valuable talent in Martin and Lamb along with the picks. Martin averaged 17.1 points last season and Lamb was a member of last year’s UConn team that won the NCAA National Championship.
The Rockets also consider themselves a winner with the trade. They may have given up some young talent, but with the offseason acquisition of Jeremy Lin and now the trade for Harden, appear to be assembling a team that could make a serious run this season.
“While I never like having to send out quality players like Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, this trade gives us a chance to make an immediate impact on the future of our franchise moving forward,” said Rockets owner Leslie Alexander.