Column: Harden will make difference in playoffs
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 00:02
What will be the biggest difference heading into this year’s NBA post-season as compared to past years? The best answer is the Oklahoma City Thunder no longer has James Harden on their roster.
This will be a bolder headline than King James’ inevitable jump shot proficiency. The Harden deal was the most crucial move the young franchise had to make in its history, and it will end up being be their biggest regret as well. We all knew James Harden was a star, we just didn’t know he was going to be a superstar. Many people, including the front office in OKC, may not know what separates the two. Well, a superstar is your franchise player who carries the team and is the leader in the locker room. Every defender that covers him is a mismatch for him. Yes, I know Kevin Durant is also a superstar and is the best pure shooter in the NBA, but is there a rule against having too many good players?
The answer in a way is yes, and the reason is due to the salary cap. The Thunder were not going to be able to pay all of their players unless they took dramatic pay cuts like the Miami Heat big three. So, when OKC realized that was not an option, they traded their “bench player” to free up space, instead of their team killer and ball hog, Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook, along with Dwayne Wade, is by far one of the most athletic players for his size in the NBA. They both can do anything on the floor that is asked of them regardless of their size. However, unlike Wade , Westbrook always wants to be driving the team bus. Westbrook continues to take ill-advised shots at the expense of his team instead of passing the orange to Kevin Durant. When LeBron James came to Miami, Wade rode in the passenger seat, still in control but let LeBron lead the way. Westbrook refuses to let Durant lead the team, despite all the criticism he receives for it. Harden on the other hand, had the smallest ego in Oklahoma – he came off the bench, for goodness sake. He was not a scrub by any means, but he did what was best for the team, providing a spark off of the bench.
The Thunder should have kept Harden and worked out a trade for Westbrook. Not only is Harden a better player than Westbrook, but he is a better teammate for Kevin Durant. It is amazing that Durant scores as many points as he does with Westbrook leading the point. Westbrook averages eight assists a game but he is not a true point guard, he is a shooting guard by nature. The term shooting guard fits perfectly for him, because he loves running down the court and stopping and popping from 10 feet out. Can you imagine how many points Durant would average if he had a traditional guard make plays to get him open, a pass-first type of point guard?
Harden, however, is certainly making the Thunder look like fools for deciding to keep Westbrook and trade him to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin. Harden is averaging an astonishing 27ppg, 5 rpg and 5 apg. The assists stat is the most impressive. Most people cannot even name their starting line-up. They gave this superstar up for Kevin Martin. Martin is a decent player but, please, please, do not ever say he will replace James Harden. Martin is averaging about 15ppg, 1apg and 2rpg, which is respectable, but does not nearly replace the impact that Harden had. Harden was a game changer the minute he stepped on the floor. Martin is just filling in the play calls. Harden is carrying his Rockets to new heights. They are currently 8th in the West, but they are only two games back from 6th place. If they can catch up to Mark Jackson’s Warriors, they can avoid the red-hot San Antonio Spurs and maybe make it to the second round. If the Rockets can make it to the second round of the playoffs that would be a successful season for them. Despite what they may say, they did not expect to make it to the post season until they got Harden.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, since shaving their beard has been a two-man wrecking crew in the regular season. This may work against subpar opponents; but they have already been squashed twice by their rival, Miami, without Harden. They went from a dangerous team with many weapons to a team led by two superstars, and the real superstar only gets the ball when the other feels like it. This two-man show will not work with deep playoff contenders such as the Heat and the Spurs. Miami and San Antonio have so many scoring options that they do not know what to do with themselves.
It took about a season to figure out, but we know that LeBron is Batman and Wade is Robin in South Beach. In Oklahoma, however, there are two Batmen, and well, that isn’t how the cartoon was written. They may not understand it now, but down the road in the playoffs, when they other teams are heating up and OKC is cooling down, they are going to wish they had their beard for warmth.