The Thunder organization could have kept their 2011-12 team together and made one more run for a championship with the same core. But after failing to agree on a contract extension with James Harden, the Oklahoma City franchise decided to head in a different direction. They took their chances and traded their third best player along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks and a second round pick.
We rarely saw Jeremy Lamb this past year, his main asset is his 6’11” wingspan. Lamb spent most of his rookie year playing in the D-League. As the new sixth man for the Thunder, Kevin Martin averaged 14 points per game during the regular season. He made a decent contribution offensively, but he lacked James Harden’s court vision. No matter where Harden was, he always knew how to draw the defense and find the open man. After parting ways with Harden, the Thunder struggled with that aspect.
Overall, the trade between OKC and Houston seemed successful for both franchises. In addition to acquiring a capable scorer like Kevin Martin and a rookie with potential, the Thunder also gained a few draft picks for the future. The Rockets finally got their franchise player, and Harden was given the keys to the franchise from day one. Harden quickly blossomed into an All-Star with the Houston Rockets and led the Rockets to the playoffs for the first time since since the 2008-09 season.
Even after losing a gifted player like James Harden, the Thunder still managed to nab the number 1 seed in the Western Conference. I expected the Thunder to return to the NBA finals again this year, but I knew this team was in trouble once Westbrook injured his right knee. With the absence of Russell Westbrook, the team desperately needed Serge Ibaka to step up. Although, Ibaka couldn’t exactly live up to those expectations, we all quickly learned that Westbrook was essential to this young Thunder team. Their success depended on both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Unfortunately, Kevin Durant couldn’t get his team past the second round of the playoffs. With the Thunder out, people were disappointed in Ibaka, and they even started talking about how Harden would have made a bigger impact on the team. Here’s what would have happened if James Harden didn’t get traded:
- He wouldn’t have led the Rockets to a 45-37 overall record. The Houston Rockets would have missed the playoffs again.
- If the Rockets missed the playoffs this season, then Westbrook would have avoided a collision with Patrick Beverley.
- That means the Thunder would have had both Russell Westbrook and James Harden during their trip to the playoffs.
I’m also pretty sure that the Thunder would have made it back to the NBA Finals and attempt to finally win their first championship with an experienced roster of young NBA superstars.