Harden trade a study in contrast between Houston GM Daryl Morey and Suns President Lon Babby

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Whether you think the Rockets gave up too much for Harden, the end game is that the Rockets improved their top-level talent. The Rockets sacrificed assets to get a young upwardly mobile player with the talent to be an All-Star.

No one really knows for sure what will happen to James Harden, now that he is "the man" on the Houston Rockets. He certainly knows all about offensive efficiency and getting the most out of his shot attempts. And, he knows how to distribute the ball. But he has never wanted to be "the man" and has never had to worry about an entire defense scheming against him. It's a sharp fall from Westbrook and Durant to Lin and Asik.

But few would argue against Harden's skillset to be an All-Star level. He has top-level talent, and has shown the ability to create excitement and wins for his team.

Houston GM Daryl Morey wanted a player of Harden's ability for a long time. He made a dizzying array of moves in order to position himself to be the General Store for anyone who wanted to go shopping.

What did Morey give up for Harden?

  • Borderline all-star Kyle Lowry, who was traded to Toronto three months ago for a lottery-certain future #1 pick.
  • Young athlete Chase Budinger, who was traded to Minnesota for the #12 pick in the 2012 draft, which turned into Jeremy Lamb.
  • SG Kevin Martin, an 18.4 ppg career scorer, who was acquired two years ago from the Kings for popular PF Carl Landry.
  • a high #2 pick

Was it too much? Three starting-quality players (or at least two) for one who has never started or been "the man" on his own team before?

Actually, in retrospect I think it was a heck of a deal for Houston. They get a top-level talent for three guys who were not. Why couldn't the Suns offer a better trade after two years of trying to position themselves for this kind of acquisition?

And an even bigger question is: why weren't the Suns even in the conversation?

Of course, we don't know for sure that the Suns were NOT involved in these discussions. But it seems that Yahoo! reporter Adrian Wojnarowski was in bed with the Thunder FO last night to put together the timeline of the deal and it appears that only the Rockets were involved. The Thunder originally wanted more players and picks, eventually settling on Martin (expiring), Lamb and two #1s in 2013 plus a high #2 (Charlotte's). Why wouldn't the Thunder actively involve the Suns to, if nothing else, drive up the price to Houston? OKC had wanted Chandler Parsons too. And another #1 pick.

The Suns' best offer seemed to be: $7 million in cap space to absorb unwanted contracts, up to three #1 picks next spring (including their own likely lottery pick), glue-guy Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and young PF prospect Markieff Morris.

The problem with Gortat is that he isn't as big as Perkins, and therefore not such an asset against the Lakers like Perkins can be. But Gortat's contract is one year shorter than Perkins, so that huge tax hit in two years could be avoided without amnesty.

The problem with Morris is that the Thunder just signed Serge Ibaka for $12 million a year, so Morris would never elevate to starter-status before needing to be paid on the FA market. But Morris appears to have a nice upside, and would have been a good piece for the Thunder front line (though the Thunder apparently don't want front line help, or they would have plucked one of the 15 from Houston).

So we've got comparable picks available, between Houston and Phoenix:

  • Toronto's lottery pick vs. Suns lottery pick
  • Dallas's top-20 protected pick vs. Minnesota's top-14 protected pick
  • Charlotte's high #2 pick vs. Lakers low #1 pick

The big difference between the Rockets offer and the Suns' best offer is the players involved: Jared Dudley vs. Kevin Martin, and Markieff Morris vs. Jeremy Lamb.

One could argue that three affordable years of Dudley (at $4 million per) is better than one year of Kevin Martin. But maybe the Thunder don't want three years of Dudley, preferring to roll the dice on a great year from Martin and then free agency (or Lamb) in the future.

One could also argue that Markieff Morris is a better prospect than Jeremy Lamb. Morris has shown a lot of progress this spring with a versatile, aggressive offense, while Lamb is a jump shooter on a team suddenly heavily reliant on jump shooting.

So why weren't the Suns in the bidding?

Or were the Suns in the bidding, but decided that three #1 picks plus Dudley and Morris were too much for Harden? or, three #1 picks plus Dudley, Gortat and Morris for Harden and Perkins?

If the Suns had acquired Harden for that package and signed him to a max extension, their future flexibility would be largely gone. No 2013 draft pick, and less than max cap room to fill out the roster. Here would be the 2013-14 roster at the beginning of draft/free agent season:

Dragic/Marshall

Harden

Beasley/Tucker

Gortat (final season of deal)

Scola

-or-

Dragic/Marshall

Harden

Beasley/Tucker

Perkins

Scola

The Suns would have less flexibility to fill out the roster - only $7-9 million to spend on at least 5 players to fill out the 13-man roster, with no #1 draft picks. Yet the Suns still don't know for sure what they have in Beasley and Dragic.

What if none of the three (Harden, Dragic, Beasley) ever becomes an all-star? Should the Suns forego flexibility just to lock those guys up for multiple years?

Houston's Daryl Morey, with a similar combination of Harden/Lin/Asik, answered yes to that question. He is gambling that those guys are worth it.

Phoenix's front office is of a different disposition. They are not risk-takers who commit both big money AND assets for any one player. They didn't offer a truckload trade to New Orleans, and didn't offer a truckload trade to OKC. That's a lot of risk to take on. The Suns' youth and big contracts would be on the perimeter. They'd have to find frontline help to make any hay in the West.

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