Thunder planning for future with Harden trade

After all the hope and rumors that James Harden could work out an extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder before Wednesday’s deadline, out of nowhere the team traded him to Houston in a Saturday night deal with the Rockets that took everyone by surprise.

At first, it may have seemed like letting Harden go was a bad decision by the Thunder. After all, he is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and was a huge part of the Thunder's run to the Finals last season. He was a fan favorite in Oklahoma City and they are surely going to hate to see him go.

But maybe it is for the best.

The Thunder could not afford James Harden. He wanted a max deal and the team was not willing (or able) to deal with the financial backlash that would cause. They could have kept Harden this year and had a legitimate shot at returning to the Finals, but in all likelihood, Harden would have bolted for a max deal next summer, leaving the team with nothing.

So they got what they could.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images/ZimbioHouston traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first round and one second round draft pick to get Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward.

This season, the Thunder are going to feel the loss. Kevin Martin is a decent scorer, but he is not going to be able to fill the shoes Harden leaves behind. The Thunder should stay competitive, but in my mind, they have opened the door for the L.A. Lakers to win the Western Conference. I think they have weakened themselves just enough to where they will not make it back to the Finals.

The future is different. It is way too early to predict what type of player Jeremy Lamb is going to be, but he has definitely got a lot of potential. Along with the draft picks the Thunder picked up, Oklahoma City gets to roll the dice with a lot of young guys. Any one of them could turn into the next James Harden. Or maybe even something better.

I have seen Thunder general manager Sam Presti accomplish enough to know that he always knows what he is doing. Plan A was probably to sign Harden for a discount, but with this guy, there is always going to be a Plan B. The Thunder realized they needed to get what they could for Harden while it was still an option. Another smart business decision could result in many more years of success, continuing the Thunder dynasty without one of its biggest pieces.