Published November 01, 2012
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – The James Harden era certainly got off on the right foot for the Houston Rockets.
"The Beard" scored 37 points and picked up 12 assists in his debut with Houston Wednesday night when the Rockets bested the Detroit Pistons, 105-96.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was heard shouting, "That's why we (bleeping) got him!"
It sure was.
Laying the facts on the table, Harden is on the Rockets right now because the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't think they could afford bringing him back. Harden would've been a free agent at the end of the season, and with truck loads of money tied into Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City didn't believe they had the resources to get a deal done.
"We also understood that once it became a reality that there wasn't going to be a way for us to find a way to keep him, we had to start thinking about what was next and what was in the best interest of this franchise both in the short and long term," Thunder GM Sam Presti said at a press conference Sunday.
In the short term, the Thunder could've held on to Harden, made another serious run at an NBA title and let the chips fall where they may in the offseason.
What this trade did was weaken the Thunder this season. Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb were the two players Oklahoma City got back in the deal. Martin can score at Harden's level, but he isn't as strong a playmaker as Harden. In crunch time, Thunder coach Scott Brooks could let Harden handle the ball and put Westbrook on the wing, where he's equally dangerous.
Martin can't provide that ability. He's a shooter and a scorer, but in no way is he comparable to Harden the overall player. Lamb probably won't see a ton of time right away, but is a great prospect, who could, maybe, match Harden's production in time.
If you let the Harden situation unfold, and the Thunder didn't win the title, then Oklahoma City is left with nothing. They could try to match a max offer he'd definitely receive in the open market, then try to move Ibaka. It's a value judgment for Presti.
But by trading Harden when he did, Presti definitely cost his team a better shot at a ring. Could they beat the Miami Heat in a rematch? Maybe not, but do you like the Thunder without Harden against the Los Angeles Lakers or San Antonio Spurs in a possible Western Conference Finals bout? Honestly, I don't know how you could.
Down the line, with Lamb and two first-round picks, Oklahoma City could be even more loaded than it would've been with Harden for five years. That's the gamble Presti was willing to take.
The other side of the gamble came from Morey.
He parted with a pretty nice haul to bring Harden into the fold. It was also a haul with huge upside, but Morey thought Harden was an elite-level player worthy of a max contract.
And before you work yourself into a lather about Harden becoming a max contract guy, consider that Brook Lopez and Eric Gordon have max deals. Of course, it's ridiculous for good players to get the fully allowable money, but it's reality.
So why complain about Harden getting it?
In three seasons, with only seven starts and one season over 27 minutes per game, Harden averaged 12.7 points. Obviously that doesn't warrant a max contract. In one season, last season, when he averaged 31 minutes a night, he averaged 16.8 points, four rebounds and almost four assists.
We're getting close to max money.
Remember, this is a gamble to some extent and Harden is a perfect guy for Morey to wager on.
With only seven starts in 220 career games before Wednesday, Harden was not a max guy, but he was getting there. In one game with Houston, he played 44 minutes, scored 37 and had 12 assists.
Granted, Harden won't play 44 minutes a night, or he'll be in bed by April, but he will play close to 34 or 35. The truth is, we don't really know how great Harden can be in the role of lead beard.
"It might take some time just because I was coming off the bench," Harden said. "A lot more minutes will be played and a lot more scoring opportunities, a lot more opportunities with the ball in my hand, but I'm looking forward to it. I've been in that position before and I'm ready for it."
Harden sacrificed so much by coming off the bench for Oklahoma City. Sacrifice might not be the best word. He was doing what was right for his team, but Harden clearly can score. He is clearly a gifted playmaker. Is it unrealistic to think Harden will be worth every cent of that max deal?
We've never seen Harden as a starter, or as the No. 1 option. Through one game, it looked pretty darn good. The Rockets won and Harden was spectacular.
And keep this in mind: In this NBA, free agents apparently don't sign anywhere without having a friend or superstar already in place. If Harden is as good as Wednesday night indicated, that could lure someone to Houston.
Remember what Morey said, "That's why we (bleeping) got him!"
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