In the days after the James Harden trade, I've been surprised by the number of people who have called sports talk radio shows to say they are upset with the trade. Their reasons are different, but none of them seem based in fact. It's sad, but it seems like some sports fans can only be mad and disappointed, they don't know how to deal with or react to good news. The best example of this is on the day after a Texans game, if they lose, the phone boards are full all day long; if they win, crickets. Some fans enjoy complaining more than celebrating.
Here are a few of the criticisms I've heard that I believe are off base.
"The Rockets gave up too much. They shouldn't have given up two first round picks, that's way too much. Maybe one first rounder, but two is crazy"
First off, I'm sure if it was an option, the Rockets would have only given the Thunder one first round pick, they didn't just throw in an extra pick to be nice. To get something good, you have to give up something good. The Thunder were ready to move on, but they weren't going to give him up for nothing.
Truth be told, I actually don't think the Rockets gave up much at all. James Harden is a better player right now than both Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. He's also six years younger than Martin and even if Lamb turns in to an all-star, his upside is close to what James Harden already is so why take a risk over the known commodity? In regards to the picks, the only pick worth anything that they gave up was the first round pick from Toronto. Second round picks just aren't worth much in the NBA. From the 2007 draft there was one all-star selected in the second round up to this point (Marc Gasol) compared to nine players selected during the second round that never played in the league. Combined over the 2008 and 2009 drafts there were no all-stars selected up to this point compared to 13 players selected who haven't played in the league at this point.
With the first round picks given up, the Mavericks pick in my opinion isn't worth much because it's top 20 protected. It's funny how Rockets fans have complained about being stuck in mediocrity with late lottery picks and now some of those same fans are complaining about losing at best the 21st overall pick. To the Raptors pick, it could turn out to be very valuable, but it's top three protected so the best it could be is fourth overall. James Harden was the third overall pick and they acquired the all-star for at worst the 4th overall pick from the Raptors. None of the other pieces of the trade mean that much to me and I'd rather have a known commodity that's proven himself as an all-star over an unknown player with the fourth overall pick that there's a decent chance ends up being a bust.
"Why did the Rockets trade for a backup? I can't believe Morey's big trade was for a sixth man!"
As the saying goes, it's not who starts, it's who finishes. Yes, technically Harden was a sixth man and came off the bench, but he averaged 31.4 minutes per game; just four minutes less per game than Russell Westbrook. Harden was a full-time player, he was a reserve in name only. Part of why the Thunder brought him off the bench was because they had three players that basically did the same thing. Kevin Durant, Harden, and Westbrook are all attacking two guard types, coach Scott Brooks was smart to split them up so at least one could be on the court at all times. Outside of close and late game situations, it didn't make sense to play all three at the same time since they all had similar roles; there's only one ball to go around. On almost every other team in the league, Harden would have been a starter. He came off the bench due to the situation of the roster, not because he lacked talent.
"Harden can't carry a team, why are they giving him a max contract?"
Harden isn't LeBron, he isn't Kobe, and he isn't Durant, but I think he can be an elite player. Ideally, only the top five to ten players in the league would receive max money, but the Rockets aren't the first team to slightly overpay a star player. If his numbers don't go up from last year, he'll end up being a disappointment, but at the age of 23 and with an increase in minutes coming from his new team, I think he has a chance to be special. Per 36 minutes, Harden averaged 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and two three-pointers made per game last season. As he develops, his ability as an all-around player could take him to the next level. If he takes the next step and becomes a player that averages at or above 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, which isn't far fetched, then the Rockets could have a special player. Only LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, and Kobe Bryant put up those types of numbers last season. His numbers from last season or his role as a sixth man may not remind you of a max-contract player, but with more minutes and an offense featuring him as the top option, I think he has the talent to be a 25 point per game scorer.
I know many of you are skeptical, but give this trade a chance. When Harden gets comfortable in this system and is surrounded with another player of equal talent; the Rockets could make a run.