NBA News: Thunder Trade James Harden to Houston Rockets

In one of the more stunning NBA moves in recent memory, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner James Harden to the Houston Rockets after failing to agree to a contract extension. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news late Saturday night, and quickly set off a firestorm of surprised reaction.

The decision to trade Harden was made after the Thunder couldn’t agree to a long-term extension with their reserve guard, and GM Sam Presti made the decision to move him rather than possibly losing him for nothing when his contract expires at the end of the season. Regardless, it was a stunning move after a season where the team reached the NBA Finals, and many were picking them to return to the championship series this year.

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Following the move, it seems that Harden was as surprised as the rest of us when he learned about the deal, according to ESPN.

“It happened so fast, it happened very fast,” Harden said. “But this is the position I’m in in now. Just have to make the best out of it. I’m with Houston now. I just have to come in here and play hard and win games.”

For Laker fans this looks like an unexpected gift. The Thunder were (and most likely still are) the Lakers’ biggest threat in the Western Conference. By moving Harden the team is suddenly left trying to replace his production. While Kevin Martin is a serviceable scorer and Jeremy Lamb has tremendous upside, it seems that the team mortgaged a chance to win the championship this season by letting Harden play the year out and attempting to re-sign him next summer.

Honestly it is a glaring example of the differences between a team like the Thunder and a franchise like the Lakers. While not all markets are created equal, the contrasting mindsets is quite interesting to consider. Remember, the Lakers traded their best young player (Andrew Bynum) for a center whose contract is up at the end of the year and without any guarantees of an extension. Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers’ brass expect the lure of the Lakers and the prestige of the franchise to get Howard to stick around. On the other hand the Thunder realize they’re not going to be able to pay Harden what he wants, and moved him a year early rather than being left with nothing in 10 months.

Regardless, it was a stunning move, one that is somewhat hard to understand. The Thunder are still a very dangerous team, and thinking that this makes them less of a threat to the Lakers is dangerous. Still, it isn’t often you see a team come that close to the championship only to trade one of their most valuable assets.

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In case you missed it: Dwight Howard talks about the slow process of putting together a championship team.
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