With Rockets’ James Harden trade, Thunder positioned for two top-10 picks

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Logan Newman
·3 min read
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Will the winner of the James Harden trade be the Brooklyn Nets or the Houston Rockets?

Might it be the Oklahoma City Thunder?

The blockbuster that went down Wednesday sent the superstar guard from the Rockets to the Nets in exchange for eight first-round picks and other players in what turned into a four-team trade. According to Shams Charania, the full trade included:

Rockets receive: Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, 2022, 2024 and 2026 Nets first-round picks, 2022 Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick, and first-round pick swaps with Brooklyn in 2021, 2021, 2025 and 2027

Nets receive: James Harden

Indiana Pacers receive: Caris LeVert, second-round pick

Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince

The Thunder have control of the Rockets’ 2021 first-round pick. Oklahoma City has the rights to swap that pick for either their own pick or that of the Miami Heat.

The only criteria is that the Rockets pick is top-four protected. The Thunder need Houston to get pick five or worse in the lottery to secure it.

Future picks: Breaking down all the OKC Thunder draft picks

Houston, currently 3-6, is already half a game out of last place in the Western Conference. It’s the fifth-worst record in the league.

OKC will have to hope the Rockets stay there. When Harden was on Houston, that was no concern; he can raise the floor of a team to playoff contention. Without, they should have better chemistry, but they can’t replace his production.

A starting lineup of John Wall, Oladipo, David Nwaba, PJ Tucker and Christian Wood isn’t good enough to do it in the west.

Oklahoma City can actually consider themselves fortunate that this trade went through. The other option was the Philadelphia 76ers, who were willing to include Ben Simmons, according to New York Times reporter Marc Stein.

The Rockets would have been better off short-term — though maybe not a playoff team — if the trade was centered around Simmons and picks instead of LeVert/Oladipo and picks.

Now, instead of looking at the 12-17 range in the draft, the Thunder can turn an eye to a pick in the 5-7 range.

The main hesitation on getting too excited: Will the Rockets be bad enough to squeeze into the top four?

They’re currently fifth-to-last in the NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves are 15th in the Western Conference and have incentive to remain there, given that their first-round pick is owed to the Golden State Warriors but is top-three protected.

Two of the teams with a worse record in the Eastern Conference are playoff hopefuls in the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards. The only other is the Detroit Pistons.

There’s a legitimate chance the Thunder won a top-10 pick.

There’s also a chance it’s not Oklahoma City’s only selection in that range.

All the team has to do is successfully tank, which is apparently easier said than done, given as Oklahoma City was 5-5 entering Wednesday and in ninth place of the Western Conference with all five wins coming against playoff hopefuls.

It’s still early in the year and impossible to say if OKC is legitimately a solid team and too good to tank or if they’re just on a nice early-season run.

What’s not too early to say is that the Rockets are worse on Wednesday evening than they were on Tuesday morning.

With the Thunder in control of Houston’s pick, it’s time to start paying more attention to college basketball.

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