James Harden plays hardball with the Thunder, so what does OKC's General Manager, Sam Presti, do? Cave and pay him $60 million? No. Hold onto him for a year trying to win a championship and then letting him walk in free agency or receive a max deal from another team, forcing OKC to match or lose him for nothing? Nope. Presti calls up the Rockets and has Harden traded before anyone in the league sniffed that such a thing was possible.
And his team is better off for it.
The deal is reported to be Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Haywood to the Rockets in return for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two 2013 first round picks (from the Mavs and Raptors) and one 2013 second rounder (from the Bobcats, which practically makes it a first rounder). Now, I won't argue that either Martin or Lamb, or even both combined, are the player Harden is. They aren't. But as a package, I like what OKC received in their blockbuster trade more than what Orlando got for Dwight Howard, and Harden is no Dwight Howard. Honestly, I'm not certain he's worth a max contract. It took Orlando roughly a year and a half to finalize a deal for Howard, and offering a lesser talent, Sam Presti topped the Magic's return in a trade he seems to have pulled off in a single evening.
Martin will fill the scoring roll off the bench that Harden leaves, and he'll do it well. And in a few years Lamb will likely be as good as Martin ever was, leaving the Thunder with another young stud on the roster--one they won't have to pay $60 million dollars to keep. Plus, with Eric Maynor playing backup PG once more, the Thunder won't need Harden to run the offense with Westbrook off the floor, as they did this year. Moreover, the two draft picks they gained--likely to be in the late lottery range--when packaged with an additional piece or two may well land them their next top ten pick in the draft, and we all know what Presti does with those.
This deal leaves the Thunder in contention this year, and possibly even better off in the future, given the combination of Lamb, two first round picks, and the financial breathing room the team gained in this move. And all because Presti had the guts to make a move others wouldn't.
Kevin O'Connor and Dennis Lindsey should take a lesson from the GM who is clearly the class of the league right now. The Jazz's crunch at PF/C is an issue everyone in the league knows demands resolution. The Al Jefferson / Paul Millsap combination has no future with the Utah Jazz, not as a tandem. The organization likely already lost the moments of greatest opportunity for making a move in the off season. (I can't be sure, but I strongly suspect the Jazz could have worked a deal with Sacramento for their #5 pick in return for Millsap, the Jazz 1st this year, and maybe a 1st next year, and used that pick to grab Damian Lillard to make our C4 a C5. The Kings' rapture at having Thomas Robinson fall to them suggests they would have taken a long, hard look at any offer of Millsap, who is a similar player in many ways.) But missed opportunities in the past are no justification for repeated mistakes in the future.
Once the season starts, opportunities to trade Millsap and/or possibly Jefferson will come, if the front office seeks them out--including an opportunity, likely a tough call, that leaves the team better off long term. When it does, the Jazz should ask themselves, "What would Sammy do?" That way they can fight off all the justifications for not acting.
Jazz: "But a move might cost us the playoffs!"
Sam: "So? Some people are saying I cost my team a chance at a title."
Jazz: "But to act quickly... What if another offer would have come, one that was better than what we took?"
Sam: "You made a move that made the team better in a sustainable way. So don't worry about it. After all, it's at least as likely no better opportunity would have come, and you would regret not making the move afterward."
Jazz: "But to get a chance at equal value, we'd have to give up certain talent for risk. That isn't the way we work."
Sam: "To each his own. One last point, however: if you don't leverage that certain value into the best exchange you can, risky or not, you lose it anyway. I'd take a risk-reward prospect over a certain loss any day. But that's just me."
Hopefully, a time will come this season that we turn on the computer or pick up a paper and out of the blue read "Jazz Star Traded!" When it does, I hope you all join me in shouting, "We pulled Presti!"