If money is the root of all evil, in the NBA, money is also the root of most trades. And money was certainly the primary factor in the blockbuster deal that essentially exchanged James Harden for Kevin Martin.
Discounting the future draft picks involved, let’s investigate what both the Rockets and the Thunder lost and gained.
HOUSTON: Harden will replace some of the overall toughness that was lost when Luis Scola was let go. Harden is a determined point-maker who can bag treys, and routinely take his tricky left-handed slants to the rim. His defense is sturdy and relentless albeit somewhat overrated. Despite being the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Harden will no doubt be happy to be among the Rockets starting five. If Harden was spectacularly ineffective in the finals, Houston won’t get far enough into the playoffs for Harden’s lack of grace under extreme pressure to be worrisome.
Assuming Houston and Harden can agree on a mutually satisfactory contractual situation by Wednesday’s deadline, the Rockets will have a generally reliable go-to scorer for the foreseeable future. However, since Harden represents Houston’s only proven scorer, defenses will have the luxury of totally focusing on him. Too bad his new backcourt partner, the overrated Jeremy Lin, will provide minimal assistance.
Throw-ins in the transaction are Cole Aldrich, a less than adequate third-string center; Daequan Cook, a 3-point specialist with deficient defense and a reluctance to pass; and Lazar Haywood, a terrific D-League player.
All told, an upgrade for the Rockets.
OKLAHOMA CITY: Martin can compete with Harden on a point-for-point basis, but his modus operandi is totally different. Where Harden is tough, Martin is soft. Where Harden plays strongarm defense, Martin plays no discernible defense. Where Harden loves to challenge the trees in the forest, when he’s not on the run Martin is much more comfortable on the perimeter.
It should be noted, though, that Martin’s ability to get to the rim in fastbreak and early offense situations earns him one free throw for every 4.7 minutes of playing time. This ratio compares favorably with Harden’s 1/6.2, and even Kevin Durant (1/4.8) and Russell Westbrook (1/5.6).
Martin is a speedster who will seriously amp up OKC’s running game—and is an appreciably more dependable 3-point shooter with slightly better range. In addition, Martin is the more explosive scorer than Harden as well as being a much better finisher in a broken field.
The substitution of Martin for Harden puts considerably more zip in the Thunder’s offense while drastically weakening the defense of the second unit. And since Martin was a dud in his only previous playoff appearance—shooting only .407 and averaging a disappointing 13.2 points in six games for Sacramento in 2006—he will likewise have to demonstrate that he can excel in the money season.
Jeremy Lamb could potentially be a Kevin Martin clone.
For the Thunder, it remains to be seen if Martin’s uptempo finesse game can compensate for Harden’s more muscular game plan. But it says here that OKC has lost slightly more than it has gained.