Thunder will be fine without Harden
NOV 02, 2012 11:20p ET
Somehow, I get the feeling people around these parts are going to be talking about Harden this season.
Forget the first-guessing, that's too difficult. It's all second-guessing now. It's a full-blown case of, "Should they or shouldn't they have traded Harden," and it's infected everyone.
A story, by now, you know all too well. Traded just days before the season opener and before he would have become a free agent, Harden scored 37 points in his debut with Houston and topped that Friday night with 45 points in a win at Atlanta.
That leaves a lot of questions out there about what could have been.
Forget that for now. The answer for the Thunder isn't all hidden behind Harden's beard and what they lost. Instead, the answer can be found in what they still have with Russell Westbrook and what they have gained with the addition of Kevin Martin.
Oklahoma City moved to 1-1 on the season with a 106-92 victory over Portland and did it despite the fact the sky was falling and the house was on fire.
Harden was sensational against Atlanta, fueling the flames a bit more. Couple that with the fact Westbrook was miserable Thursday night against the Spurs, first shooting poorly and then getting lost defensively on the game's final play as Tony Parker made the game-winning shot.
"Well, it's a good thing I stuck with Russell," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, unprovoked and ready to pounce on anyone ready to disparage Westbrook. "He did a great job."
Westbrook had 32 points on 13-of-24 shooting and did it a night after going 6-for-21 with six turnovers. Yeah, nice bounce-back. Meanwhile, Martin came off the bench and scored 19 points, making all three of his 3-pointers a game after scoring 15 points.
"We were able to make some shots tonight," Kevin Durant said. "We were able to play together. Russ played exceptionally well, K-Mart, Nick. Everyone chipped in."
And that's the thing. You know Durant is going to get his (23 points Friday) and you know Westbrook will be maddening and amazing on regular occasion.
And you know we know this: Westbrook, Durant and Martin are just as viable a trio as Westbrook, Durant and Harden.
The new three combined for 74 points against the Trail Blazers and looked pretty comfortable doing it.
"It's going to take time," Westbrook said. "We're learning each other's spots and it's just a learning process. We're going to get it right."
Unlike the Los Angeles Lakers, who are dealing with massive, interchanging parts and pieces that don't seem to fit well, Oklahoma City has moved just one piece.
"When you talk about chemistry with our group, you haven't been around our group," Brooks said, saying it was a happy family and is a happy family. "James was a good player, but it wasn't "Dr. James." He wasn't helping the group stick together. All the guys do. Good teams sacrifice. That's what we've done. Our chemistry has never been (something), I'm really worried about."
Martin seems unable to rock a boat even in the most turbulent situations. He said before Friday's game he was, "A different kind of nervous," concerned more about fitting in than playing well. He said it was important to let his new teammates know he was happy and satisfied with not being "The Man."
That's not Harden, who clearly was interested in doing the opposite of Martin. So far, it's worked. Houston is 2-0 and if the season ended Friday, he'd be the MVP.
"He's doing it on the fly," Brooks said of Martin, fitting in and playing well. "We've given him a speedy course, but we have a good group who are willing to expedite that learning curve."
The Thunder are hoping that group effort will more than make up for losing one player.
"Everybody played solid," Durant said. "That's what we're going to need."
Nope, all they're going to need is their "Big Three" to be just as good as last year. Nothing more. Nothing less.