The Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to trade James Harden to the Houston Rockets on Saturday, avoiding a massive contract extension for the fourth-year guard. But the Thunder actually take on some salary for the 2012-13 season, as they get Kevin Martin, due $12.4 million, in addition to rookie Jeremy Lamb ($2 million), while giving up Harden (on the books for $5.8 million), Daequan Cook ($3 million) and Cole Aldrich ($2.5 million).
But that extra $2 million or so in immediate salary will switch quickly next season. Harden will be on a max deal in Houston for about $14 million, Martin will be a free agent, and Lamb will be making little. If Lamb develops and can replace Harden in some sense, the Thunder should be just fine on the books. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will make a combined $45 million, Thabo Sefolosha is due about $4 million, and Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison make up another $11.5 million. The team's assorted youngsters account for about $5 million. That's a total salary of $65 million in 2013-14, well under the luxury tax line, with room to spare to fill out the roster.
Of course, it might make sense to keep Martin or acquire another shooting guard if Lamb is slow to develop. But in keeping Harden, the Thunder were going to have to cut other salary (like Perkins) or pay penalties. This trade (which includes three picks to help keep the periphery cheap) saves that drama.