After reaching the NBA Finals the Thunder knew the summer would bring about the time to make crucial decisions that will affect the team for years to come. The three headed monster of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden posed problems for teams who had slower point guards and a back court that couldn’t match their play making and scoring ability.
However the team not wanting to offer Harden a max contract decided right before the season to trade Harden to the Houston Rockets in return acquiring scorer Kevin Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb. This trade in the short term will see the Thunder working to develop chemistry with Martin while working him in the system and finding who will provide scoring off the bench. If nothing else they knew they could count on average 15 points minimum from Harden off the bench and rely on him being an additional playmaker alongside Westbrook. With that luxury gone the Thunder do now have a professional scorer, a guy who has averaged 18 ppg his entire career and can shoot with the best of them.
Where the Thunder are going to struggle is the defensive end. Martin isn’t a player known for his defense, and while Kendrick Perkins has slimmed down, he’s not been the force that was expected when he was traded for. Along with their defense struggling in the NBA Finals against the Heat, they got minimal offensive production from their front court of Perkins and Serg Ibaka. If they want to get out of the Western Conference and attain that Larry O’Brien Trophy they’re going to need those two to be some kind of threat so opposing defenses can’t slant their coverage to cutting off driving lanes of Westbrook and Durant. In the San Antonio Spurs series Ibaka had a career scoring outburst, which caused their big men to have to play him honest. As long as teams are playing them honest they can’t cut off driving lanes, or slide double teams easier.
The Thunder will be at the top of the conference when it’s all said and done, but they’re going to need some help from players who have not been high pressure situations. Eric Maynor who’s coming off a reconstructed knee will be looked at to pick up some of the slack the Harden leaves behind. Rookies Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb who won’t be expected to provide much early on, as the season progresses one of them will need to give them something off the bench. It doesn’t have to be something quantified by stats, but a player that keeps the flow of momentum going. Hasheem Thabeet will give them some front court depth, and will allow Perkins and Ibaka to be more aggressive knowing they have Thabeet to come off the bench to hold down the fort.
It will take some time to see ultimately see if the Harden trade was a success or tragedy, but it’s definitely a move that doesn’t send them to druthers of the league.