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Sunday Bolts – Bye-bye Beard Edition

Sunday Bolts – Bye-bye Beard Edition

J.A. Adande of ESPN.com on the move for OKC: “Bad move. It’s not that Harden is the critical element to the Thunder’s success. (In their only NBA Finals victory against the Heat, he scored just five points.) But the familiarity this team had built was a big part of its identity. They were comfortable. They knew exactly what this group could do. Now they enter the unknown — and that includes the career of the promising Jeremy Lamb. Potential means you haven’t done anything.”

Ben Golliver of SI.com: “The Thunder can’t take home an “A” in moving Harden. He’s too good as a player and he was too perfect as a fit. The “A” play for Presti was to convince Bennett to step up and swallow the tax bills. But he earns his “B+” for getting the exact package you would expect him to acquire: a large expiring contract, capable players to fill the hole he created, and draft picks that offer future flexibility. Moving from Harden to Martin is a noticeable downgrade, but it’s not exactly falling off a cliff. Martin has been aching to play for a winner, can draw fouls like nobody’s business, and is a career 37.7 percent three-point shooter. That can work well. Lamb, meanwhile, is all upside. The Thunder will have the luxury of developing him slowly and incubating him in a winning culture. Their track record on getting the most of young players is pretty solid, to say the least.”

NBA players react to the Harden news.

John Hollinger of ESPN.com: “They won’t be able to fill those spots with anybody as good as James Harden, but they may get a better fit in Lamb, and if they can get 3-4 decent supporting players to replace the Derek Fishers and Daequan Cooks of a year ago, it’s possible they come out even or ahead on the bargain. Nonetheless, this was a trade made with a gun to their head, and it’s tough to win those. The Thunder did about as well as they could to come away with a prospect at a need position, a one-year rental of a deadly scorer, two firsts and a high second. I’ll have more on their short-term prospects by Monday, but if you were going to trade James Harden, this was the deal to make.”

James Harden tweets: “I would love to Thank Oklahoma City for 3 amazing years! Teammates and Fans were thee best. The love will always be there. Thanks Again.”

Winners and Losers from the Harden trade.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com: “The Thunder hoped, and obviously expected, that Harden would follow suit. On the court, he had been willing to accept a sixth-man role for the good of the team, and both parties benefited. Harden was named Sixth Man of the Year and the Thunder reached the NBA Finals last season. In the end, sources said, the Thunder had to make a decision based on risk: not just the financial and basketball risk that came with allowing Harden to become a free agent, but also the risk of deviating from their philosophy, and what that would mean for the players who had been willing to follow it in the past. What Presti and Harden decided is clear. Less clear are the consequences on the court.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports with an inside look at the deal: “Oklahoma City’s front office was melancholy on Saturday night. They had drafted this core, developed it and hoped they could keep it together for years and years. Ownership might have gone further with its final offer of $54 million, but Presti drew the line on how much he was willing to invest into Harden and ended the talks there. The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement delivers devastating luxury-tax penalties to teams over the cap – $1.50 for every dollar over the tax threshold – and Presti simply couldn’t justify the cost. This wouldn’t go until Wednesday night’s deadline, Presti informed Pelinka. That’s the final offer, and his next call would be to Houston to tell Morey: Let’s reach out to the league office and get a trade call to make this official.”

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “Harden’s future in Oklahoma City was always going to be about whether he’d be willing to take less money and continue in a lesser role than restricted free agency would eventually afford him in both areas. Facing a similar decision, Ibaka decided to hitch his defensive-player-of-the-year credentials to Durant and Westbrook and chose winning over money. Harden, whose scoring and playmaking skills made a max offer in restricted free agency next summer a virtual certainty, couldn’t swallow the notion of being underpaid and underutilized — factors that were inevitable had he agreed to Presti’s last, best offer. That’s his decision, one the Thunder don’t and shouldn’t begrudge — but one Presti decided he wouldn’t helplessly watch unfold.”

Buck Harvey of the San Antonio News-Express: “But Harden is special. He is clever, and he works the refs, and he knows the nuances of the game. He also creates for teammates better than Westbrook ever has. That — and his left-handed drives — make him the closest thing to Ginobili the league has seen. Harden wasn’t the same against the Heat in the Finals. Still, what he showed against the Spurs in the Western Conference finals suggests he will be the kind of player who wins in pressure moments for the next decade. This is why OKC isn’t as scary today. The Thunder wouldn’t have beaten the Spurs last spring without Harden, and that moment in Game 5 meant everything.”

Let’s look back at Zach Lowe’s column, where he pretty much called this.

Matt Moore of CBSSports.com gives OKC a D: “The Thunder were held together by chemistry. I believe in metrics, and advanced analytics, and X’s and O’s and concrete things. But having players who loved playing together and “get” one another has an impact you can see in the locker room which carries over onto the court. OKC had that, and now they face an uncertain future. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It wasn’t about being broke, but it was definitely about money for both sides. And now they’ve tried to fix it and an uncertain future awaits.”

I ended up being way wrong, but here’s what I wrote in August about the idea of trading Harden: “Because consider this: If the Thunder don’t keep Harden, the 2012-13 season is probably their best chance ever to win a title. While a deal getting Kevin Martin and picks or J.J. Redick and picks might benefit the team down the road, it will only hurt their current title chances. And after coming so painfully close to glory last season, you really think they’re going to take that kind of step back? If anything, it would be about one last run at it next season and then trying to recover in 2013-13 if Harden signed elsewhere.”

Rob Mahoney of SI.com: “Lest we forget: Lamb is the real return here, and could prove to be the stylistic bridge between Harden and Thabo Sefolosha that the Thunder have so desperately been searching for. Over the last few seasons, the shooting guard rotation in Oklahoma City has boiled down to a difficult offense/defense substitution; Sefolosha’s outstanding defensive work was undercut by inconsistent shooting, while Harden’s star-level offensive contributions were off-set by his lacking defensive game. Lamb’s skill set is complete enough to avoid such directional concerns, and offer Brooks an attractive long-term option on the wing without liability.”

Darnell Mayberry: “Again, I ain’t mad at Harden. I just don’t think it was the smartest move. He could be in for a rude awakening in Houston. Look at it this way. He’s now the Rockets’ franchise player. Does anyone think Harden is capable of doing for Houston what Kevin freaking Durant does for OKC? How about what Westbrook does? Not only must Harden shoulder the burden of being a franchise player, but he’ll now be expected to produce like one. That means nightly defenses designed to stop him, opposing team’s best defenders glued to shutting him down. Harden is still young, but I never saw him possessing that ability nor the desire to have that pressure on him. He was comfortable playing alongside two all-stars. It suited him and the Thunder perfectly. Now those days are long gone and he might spend the rest of his career wishing he could have them back.”

Andrew Sharp of SB Nation: “If the Thunder were willing to pay Harden $54 million over the next four years, they may as well have pushed it to $60. It’s hard to believe a $60 million deal was going to cripple them or complicate things any more than a $54 million deal would have. The only way to explain it is that the Thunder figured they didn’t need Harden as a part of the core, never intended to offer him the max and were assuming he’d balk at the lower deal, allowing them to retain more flexibility.”

Both Kevin Durant and Scott Brooks were on the sidelines last night in Norman when the trade broke. I was sitting in the crowd and it was kind of incredible: OU just scored to tie the game 13-13 and that’s when word started spreading about Harden. Pretty soon, there wasn’t much focus on the field anymore. And coincidentally, that’s when OU pooped down their leg. Sports, man.