It was a Saturday night in late October, and as the sports world gave their complete attention to the college football games that were on, a trade in the NBA fell threw the cracks. October 28, 2012 will forever be remembered in Houston Rockets lore as the day that the team stole James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Harden was eating dinner with his family in Oklahoma City, when he received a call, telling him about the deal. As the trade became official, it was a shock to everyone that it had happened so fast, including Harden himself. When the dust finally settled, the Rockets shipped away Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, 2 first-round picks, and a second-round pick to acquire Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward.
“It(the trade) happened fast,” coach Kevin McHale said. “When he (Daryl Morey) said it would really go down, I was like, ‘Wow.’ When it did, I was surprised. I was thinking, ‘Wow, we have two or three days of work, and then we play opening night.’ I knew it would be interesting. It worked out well.”
People were critical of the trade for both teams. The Thunder, fresh off a Finals appearance, couldn’t reach a contract extension agreement with Harden, and decided to ship him away instead of playing out the year to see if something could be solved. Harden, himself, had his success with the Thunder as a 6th man, shining behind the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Was he ready to carry the load for the Rockets?
A year later, Harden has established himself as a top-10 player in the NBA, and arguably the best shooting guard in the game right now. He averaged 25.9 points a game in his first year in Houston, set a number of franchise records, and lead the team to it’s first playoff appearance since 2009.
“It’s crazy how this business works,” Harden said about the trade. “Last year, I was in Oklahoma City, preparing after the Finals run and the Olympics and thinking about getting back to the Finals.”
For general manager Daryl Morey, it marked his biggest trade since taking over the position, and one that Rockets fans had waited for. After the disappointment of not acquiring Paul Gasol in 2011 after a 3-team trade between the Rockets, New Orleans Hornets, and Los Angeles Lakers was vetoed by the NBA, the Rockets had their shot at acquiring Dwight Howard in 2012 when he was a member of the Orlando Magic, only to have those aspirations go by the wasteland.
So Morey took a different approach, trading Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for a lottery pick in what was an after-thought at the moment. Little did people know, that the pick was what the Thunder preferred when looking for the right deal to take.
Now things have circled around back to Houston, as Howard is now in a Rockets uniform, alongside Harden. As the two are ready to lead the new-look Rockets into a new era that’s optimistic of Western Conference relevancy in the coming years, Harden has put his spectacular first season aside, and focused on getting back to the Finals. Harden stated:
“Last year was kind of a breakout season for me as an individual as far as what I can do. Now, we get a key addition in Dwight. This past year has been a whirlwind. It’s all for the better. It is what God has for me. Now we’re in Houston. We’re trying to get back to the Finals and to the ring.”
That quest for the Finals begins Oct. 30 when the Charlotte Bobcats come to Toyota Center.