After reportedly turning down a contract offer for $52 million over four years, James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets on Saturday.  Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti traded Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks, and a second-round pick.

Harden was drafted by the Thunder in 2009.  Since then, he has continuously improved his game.  Last season, he received the award for Sixth Man of the Year, scoring an average of 16.8 points per game coming off the bench.  After losing to the Heat in the NBA Finals, Harden and his then-teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook traveled to London to compete in the Olympics on Team USA.  OKC’s big three helped lift the United States past Spain to win gold.

Now, with the 2012-2013 season just days away, James Harden is no longer with the team that drafted him and helped cultivate his talents.  In some ways, it comes as a shock since all reports suggested both parties hoped to be able to reach an agreement to extend Harden’s contract.  Harden had even expressed his willingness to make some financial sacrifices in order to stay with the team.  Yet with the strict luxury tax penalties of the new CBA, many doubted the Thunder’s ability to keep Harden after extending Russell Westbrook’s and Serge Ibaka’s contracts earlier this year.

Oklahoma City now begins the process of moving forward with Martin and Lamb.  In his post-trade press conference, Presti called Martin “one of the most efficient offensive players” in the NBA.  He also expressed his excitement about Lamb, who was drafted twelfth overall out of the University of Connecticut by the Rockets.  The three draft picks that Presti acquired will also allow him to continue building the Thunder through the draft as has been his practice since assuming his duties as General Manager.

Aside from the trade, the Thunder’s roster also saw the addition of Center Hasheem Thabeet and Guard DeAndre Liggins in free agency acquisitions over the summer.  With Cole Aldrich’s move to Houston, Thabeet will likely back up Kendrick Perkins at Center.

The Thunder under is now preparing to go to San Antonio on Thursday night to open the season against the team they defeated in the Western Conference Finals last spring.  They will face off with the Portland Trail Blazers in their home opener the following night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.