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HARDEN LEAVES THUNDERS TO PLAY FOR ROCKETS
Thu, 01 Nov 2012 02:30 AM EDT

Unable to work out an extension with James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded the Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets, breaking up the young core of the Western Conference champions.

The Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, 2 first-round picks and a 2nd-round pick in the surprising deal that was completed Saturday night. Oklahoma City also sent center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston.

Wednesday’s deadline to extend Harden or allow him to become a limited free agent next July had been hanging over the Thunder from the moment they reported to training camp, but sources announced the Houston mean to sign the swingman to the max deal extension he was looking for before Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

The Thunder offered Harden $55.5 million over 4 years — $4.5 million less than the max deal Harden coveted and will get from the Houston Rockets, sources claimed.

“We wished to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these circumstances have to work for all those involved. Our ownership group again showed their dedication to the organization with several significant offers,” Thunder director Sam Presti declared in an announcement.

“We could not reach a mutual agreement, and so processed a trade that capitalized on the chance to bring in a player of Kevin’s caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team.”

The small-market Thunder had already signed Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to long term deals, and apparently realized Harden was going to want a bigger salary than they might offer.

Harden averaged 16.8 points and 3.7 assists last season, and joined Durant and Westbrook on the U.S. Men’s Olympic team. He struggled badly in Oklahoma City’s loss to Miami in the NBA Finals, but the Thunder felt good about their possibilities of getting back there with another year of experience for their young stars, all 24 or younger.

The Thunder got back a good scorer in Martin, who has averaged 18.4 points in his 8 NBA seasons, and a promising young player in Lamb, the No. 12 pick in the draft who helped Connecticut win the 2011 NCAA championship. He led Houston’s summer league team in scoring with 20 points per game. Odds
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The Houston rebuilt their roster in the offseason and hoped to land Dwight Howard. Rockets traded or released nearly every vet except Martin, who was in the last year of his agreement and due about $13 million this season.

Martin averaged 17.1 points and 2.8 assists last year, his 8th in the NBA and 3rd in Houston. He missed the last 26 games last season with a shoulder injury, though he also developed a rift with Houston coach Kevin McHale late in the year.

“While I never like having to send out quality players like Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, this trade give us a chance to make an immediate effect on the future for our franchise moving forward,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander recounted.


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