The Houston Rockets did the smart financial move and extended the contract of James Harden now, instead of waiting for the salary cap to be a lot higher, showing trust in their superstar, and in his ability to be a cornerstone in a championship down the line.
With the offseason changes the Rockets have gone through, one thing seems to be clear: The franchise is 100% behind Harden, willing to fight for him and anyone criticizing him, just like owner Leslie Alexander did when Harden was asked a question about defense. The answer everyone defending Harden gives? A player can’t defend well when 100% of the possessions that occur when he’s on the floor depend on him. To give him a shot at spending energy on both ends of the floor, there’s a need for better offensive players around him. This theory will be tested once more in the upcoming NBA season.
Harden’s extension is worth $118.1 million, and runs through the 2019-2020 season. Harden had two years remaining on his original deal with the Rockets, and received raises of $26.5 million for 2016-17 and $28.3 million for 2017-18. In the last two years of the deal, his salary will come to a total of $63.1 million, which should take him to 8 season with the organization. Harden has been with Houston since 2012, when he was traded there from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Is this how the Rockets plan to win a championship? The initial plan was to sign Dwight Howard, and it didn’t worked. One conference final, two first round exits later, and Howard is gone. Harden gets two more shooters to play around him: Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, reportedly expressing interest to spend time next to him. More importantly, he has a new head coach in Mike D’Antoni, which could mean less on-court interference from Daryl Morey, who probably saw some of his wings clipped due to the 41-41 record in 2015-2016.
Signing Harden to a maximum salary isn’t the issue with the Rockets plan of winning a title. You can have three players on the roster with a maximum salary and build a deep enough contender, as we’ve seen in the last few years with a number of examples, although players do give up a little bit on money here and there to make it a perfect fit. But trying to do what the Golden State Warriors did doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s not because of financial reasons.
It’s the same reason the San Antonio Spurs “formula” can’t be copied anywhere else. It has more to do with personality of these stars than the actual figures of their contract. Part of what has made the Warriors so successful these last two years is the personality of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and now, they’re hoping, Kevin Durant. Stars, making star money, who don’t mind sharing the ball and the spotlight. That will be the key to building a championship team around and with Harden, who is responsible for a lot of good things the Rockets have done since he arrived, but is also at the center, along with Morey, of their lower moments.