An Odd Twist to a Young Season: A Look at James Harden and the Los Angeles Lakers
With the third pick, in the 2009 NBA draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select… James Harden, guard, Arizona State University. While that was only three years ago it soon looked like the Thunder were one of the most promising teams to emerge in the west in times of rebuilding. Their core was strong with Westbrook and Durant leading the pack and Harden developing into a prime six-man we were accustomed to in the hay-day of Manu Ginobili in San Antonio and after a deep run to the 2012 NBA Finals, the motivation was plethoric going into the 2012-2013 season.
Then, on a Saturday night captivated by the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma game, Yahoo!’s own, Adrian Wojnarowski, broke the story that the Thunder’s glue man, James Harden, had been traded to the Houston Rockets. On Wednesday, Harden inked his future for five years and a cool $80 million with the young Houston squad and the bearded phenom wasted no time going to work. In his debut, Harden stole the spotlight from his teammate, Jeremy Lin, who was also debuting with the Rockets after signing with them in the offseason. While both stars were set to make arguably the fiercest backcourt in the league, it was lights, camera, action when they took the court Wednesday against the jaunty Detroit Pistons. Harden debuted very impressively scoring 37 points in 44 minutes off of 14-25 shooting from the field and 5-6 from the free throw line. Along with a very respectable scoring outing, Harden also contributed 12 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. The only other Houston Rocket to have a 35+-point outing and tack on 12 boards as well was Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon himself. Harden’s 25 shot attempts was also something he had not been accustomed to at this point in his short career. Prior to Wednesday night, Harden had only attempted over 15 shots six times in his career, a total he crushed against Detroit to start off the season. In an even more impressive effort, Harden had another shining night, this time in Atlanta as he contributed a career high 45 points, seven rebounds and two assists in a 109-102 win over the Hawks Friday night. It doesn’t say much, given that it’s only two games out of 82, and the opener against a team that has been desperately trying to rebuild for years, but it certainly gives Houston fans hope for the future and their front office a reason to breath and make that pay check a little easier to write this week.
With Harden becoming a Rocket, the Thunder received their new six-man, Kevin Martin, and Jeremy Lamb, a young prospect with a bright future ahead of him, along with two first-round draft picks including a guaranteed lottery pick in the upcoming 2013 draft from Houston, via Toronto. A lot of people have been looking at the loss of Harden and seeing it as just that, a loss. But the fact of the matter is that while an abundance of fans think Harden was an amazing facilitator for the Thunder, he only averaged 2.5 apg in his stint with the team, where as Kevin Martin averaged 2.0 apg in his tenure with the Rockets given they don’t possess the fire-power Oklahoma City does neither. Along with a seed to grow in Jeremy Lamb, the Thunder made out well in this trade and it didn’t cost them a max contract in the end. The masses of us will never make the money that was offered to Harden from Oklahoma City (reported 4 yr/$52 mil) in the course of our lifetime and the majority of us don’t even have a clue as to what we would do with that kind of money, so it’s easy for us to sit in the stands and call the man selfish for rejecting what would make him the third highest paid player on the roster. However, take into consideration that Harden just came off the best year of his career, won sixth man of the year, and was part of Team USA’s gold medal team in London this last summer; a max contract or bust was inevitable for both parties involved whether he was staying in Oklahoma City, or going to Phoenix, Dallas or Houston (teams with max contracts available) and when it was clear OKC wasn’t going to give Harden the max, the message was clear; pack your bags.
Another interesting spectacle out West comes as a surprise to many of us who follow basketball on a day-by-day basis, the Lakers. After going 0-8 in the preseason Laker Nation was only showing a light form of panic with a few sweat beads sliding down their neck, but nothing serious. But when the Lake Show dropped backed-to-back losses to open up their new season with their fresh additions of Steve Nash from Phoenix and Dwight Howard from Orlando, along with Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense, Laker fans were sweating profusely wondering “when are they finally going to get it together?!” As we are accustomed to, Laker fans are quick to point fingers at someone on the team, as they are an assemblage that expects instant results. To be fair, for those of you pointing the finger at the offense, the Lakers scored 106 points with Nash only playing 16 minutes before exiting with a leg injury in their effort against Portland Thursday night. With Nash’s age becoming a factor more and more as time goes on, he admittedly said he likes not having to be in a pick-n-roll scenario every time because it “wears him out”. Now, we’re only a mere three games in so I won’t go in on how the Lakers need to condone their business, I’ll be patient and see how it plays out and that’s something I’m sure Kobe can appreciate as he had this to say Thursday to the Los Angeles Times:
“I just … I don’t understand … the city here … for me not trying to bite my tongue and not calling them dumb, which I kinda just did.
They’ve seen us win multiple championships here, playing an offense that was tough to learn, that was a sequence of options that weren’t set plays that took five guys being on the same page of working together.
They know how that stuff works, so for them to be so stupid now.
They say, ‘Well, let Steve [Nash] dribble the ball around and create opportunities for everybody. And let Dwight [Howard] post up and let me iso.’ It‘s … I don’t want to say idiotic, but it’s close…
For people not to understand that…it’s kind of funny to me actually to sit back and see that and see the arguments. A lot of people took runs at Phil too about the offense and what he’s doing. That tells you about some of these people.
Yeah because I’ve won, so I can. Mike, it would be a little tougher for him to say that. So I’ll say it for him: Everybody shut up. Let us work and at the end of the day everyone will be pleased at the end of the day.”
I have been one to almost scold when Kobe addresses the media, with his hints of ignorance and the way he answers questions night in and night out, but this… This made me smile. I couldn’t have said it any better than Kobe did and I couldn’t agree more with what he has to say. The true Laker fans will understand what Kobe is saying and honestly, I don’t think it’s them he’s addressing. There seem to be a lot of bandwagon fans for the Lakers this season and they’re the ones that need addressing, so well done, Kobe.
I will leave you with this Laker fans, the last team to make it to the finals after starting 0-2 were the Michael Jordan lead 1991 Chicago Bulls when they finished 61-21. The last team to go winless in exhibition games and make the finals? No one, in the history of professional basketball and it certainly doesn’t help when that 0-2 team with hopes of winning the title drops a third against their town rival, the Clippers, the very next night. It’s still early, don’t throw in the towel yet, Laker “fans”.
The Los Angeles Times
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
The Basketball Jones