The Houston Rockets sure didn’t take long to lock up their newly acquired star for the foreseeable future.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports first broke on his Twitter account that the Rockets have signed 2012 sixth man of the year James Harden to a 5 year, $80 million dollar extension.
Houston had until the October 31st deadline (which is today) to sign Harden before he was to become a restricted free-agent. James wanted a 4 year, $60 million extension with the Thunder which Oklahoma City was unwilling to offer. The teams best offer was $54 million over 4 years.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey believes his team now has a “foundational” player in which they can build around for the future.
“I think he’s a great, great player. I think he’s already playing at an All-Star level and is going to be a perennial All-Star and those players are rarely traded so I thought, frankly, it was going to work out there. I’m very happy for the Houston Rockets that he’s here.”
Playing with the Rockets is the perfect situation for Harden. He can hoist up all of the shots he wants now that he isn’t playing as a third option, as he was with the Thunder behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Instead of coming off the bench, Harden can now flourish as a starter playing even more minutes and having even more responsibility when he’s on the court.
That’s the thing that worries me though.
For someone who has never been a starter in his career, is James Harden really worth a max deal of 5 years, $80 million?
Deals of that amount are usually reserved for players with a proven track record. They are meant for the very best of the best around the NBA. That’s not to say Harden isn’t considered an elite talent, but has he truly shown enough at this point and time to be put up on that pedestal?
In 62 games last season off the bench for Oklahoma City, James averaged 16.8 points on 49% shooting, as well as 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Those numbers were good enough to earn him the NBA’s sixth man of the year award. He was also a key contributor to the USA Men’s Basketball team that won gold in London this summer.
The beautiful thing about coming off the bench for the Thunder was that Harden was truly the only offensive option that second-unit had. Durant and Westbrook controlled the scoring for the starters, while James had the luxury of facing bench players from teams around the league as he spotted the starting five.
His role is going to take a complete 180 degree turn as a Houston Rocket. James Harden and (perhaps) Jeremy Lin might be the only true scoring threats the Rockets have. Houston’s top 6 scorers from last season (Lowry, Scola, Martin, Budinger, Lee and Dragic) are no longer with the team. That means there will be even more pressure on the shoulders of Harden to produce right out of the gate.
Perhaps playing behind such world-class players in Durant/Westbrook stunted Harden’s growth. Maybe being “the man” on a new team will take James to newer and bigger heights.
Excuse me for being skeptical, but I am not completely sold (just yet) on Harden being that guy.
His huge $80 million dollar deal won’t make things any easier.
Of course, I’d love to be proven wrong.
Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports