Following the trade, the critics came out. And they came out quick and harsh.
Bill Simmons of Grantland.com called the trade "one of the all-time catastrophic basketball decisions." Thunder fans around the world were questioning GM Sam Presti every way possible. "How could you get rid of one of the best scorers in basketball? How is Oklahoma City going to replace a guy like James Harden? We are never going to win a title!"
So, how would life be without Harden?
Last year, Kevin Martin came in and produced when needed by averaging 14 points a game. Matter of fact, Oklahoma City won 60 games, finished second in the Western Conference, and won the Northwest division for the third straight year.
Russell Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, and the Thunder were eliminated in five games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round. Kevin Martin departed Oklahoma City and headed to Minnesota to play for the Timberwolves. The Thunder used the 12th pick in the draft from the Harden trade to draft Steven Adams for Pittsburgh. And, all of a sudden, Thunder fans were pondering a new question: How can the Thunder make up for no James Harden or Kevin Martin?
Sam Presti's answer? Easily. He just put trust in his young guys.
In James Harden's final year with the Thunder, he averaged 16.8 points, 3.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds a game. This year, Reggie Jackson is averaging 10.6 points, 3.6 assists, and four rebounds a game while shooting 47 percent from the floor. Jeremy Lamb is posting up numbers himself with 9.2 points, 1.1 assists, 2.2 rebounds a game and shooting 48 percent from the floor.
Last week against the San Antonio Spurs, Jackson and Lamb combined for 35 points on 15-21 from the floor. Both Jackson and Lamb are making up for the loss of No. 13, making Sam Presti look like a genius.
To add, when Harden was wearing a Thunder jersey, Serge Ibaka produced less, with numbers of about 9 points a game. With Harden in Houston, Ibaka gave the Oklahoma City 13 points a game last year and through 14 games this year, is averaging a double-double with 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. Not only are Jackson and Lamb making up for Hardens' absence, but so is Ibaka.
Don't get me wrong, Oklahoma City could use Harden. Without a doubt. His closing ability late in games, his ability to get to the line, and, most importantly, his ability to score at will. He's a top 15 player in this league. But would I rather pay for Lamb ($2,111,160 this year) and Jackson ($1,260,360 this year) than Harden at $16 million a year when Lamb and Jackson give Oklahoma City basically the same production as Harden?
Eli Friedman has previously worked for Fansided.com, and Rant Sports as the Oklahoma City Thunder Beat Writer. Friedman's work has been published on FoxSports.com, ESPN TrueHoop affiliate dailythunder.com, and the OKC Thunder team page on SI.com. Eli has also appeared on many sports talk shows such as ESPN RADIO 1420.
You can follow Friedman on twitter @Eli_NBAOKC.
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