In case you haven't heard, the Rockets traded for James Harden Saturday night in a move that finally gives our Rockets a sense of direction, purpose and promise. Cult leader Daryl Morey can finally relax as he has found that foundational cog that he can finally build around. The era of
Middling Overachieving Mediocrity "Competitive Rebuilding" is finally over.
But before we continue dancing in the streets and fantasizing about that eventual eighth seed, the Rockets should slow down a little and think before they throw all that money at Harden. He has the skills, there's no denying this, to become a true superstar in the NBA. Harden is good, but is he $60 million good? It's one thing to be young and promising, it's quite another to actualize that potential. In other words, he's not a max contract guy yet.
In an ideal world Harden would've taken a little less money to remain with the Thunder. It was his most secure way to contend for a title, and he had the advent of being handsomely rewarded while not having to shoulder the burden of an entire franchise on his back. Was the gulf between the reported four year, $52 million the Thunder were offering and the $60 million or more that the Rockets are going to give him all that wide? If he's the surefire star we are all hoping he is, he would've recovered that eight million four years down the line on his next big contract. He would be 27 years old and had several years left on his prime. And he might've even had a championship ring to keep him company if his bank account was really all that lonely.
Now he goes from being a solid block on a team that will contend for an NBA title for the next five years to being the main pillar on a team that is just outside the brink obscurity. Whether he expected it or not, It's time for Harden to nut up and prove he's worth the millions that he's asking for. And there's a chance he might not be up for it.
If I were Morey I'd actually make the same risk he was willing to make with Dwight Howard and "rent" Harden out for the year. You run the risk of not being able to resign him but it would be worth it just to see if he's the player we think he is before he's awarded a max contract. Maybe we don't resign him next summer, but at least we're not stuck with a heavy contract for an unfulfilling star. Hardly anyone can argue against playing it safe and auditioning the guy for a full season before paying him. You have to dangle the carrot in front of the donkey lest the jackass don't move the buggie.
I think paying Harden so much so soon could erase all the drive and desire that makes him James Harden in the first place. The money could be his albatross.
We've seen it before where player A puts together an insane series games, or a season (usually in the final year of their contract) and then they are rewarded by a ridiculous contract that severely over values their production going forward. There are no shortage of players who have suffered career-ending contracts. And its an occurrence that affects the entire landscape of professional sports. Quite simply, once some players get paid they simply don't work as hard anymore.
And then there's this from Grantland's Jordan Conn from a wonderful profile written back in May:
Though Harden was slotted near the top of most draft boards, Presti's decision to pick him over Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, and Stephen Curry was largely based on fit. Shortly before the draft, Harden sent Presti an e-mail explaining why he thought he belonged in Oklahoma City. "He made it clear that he understood the ethos of the organization," Presti says. "He understood the dynamic of our team, that it wasn't going to be a typical situation for someone drafted that high. Instead of being worried about it, he was motivated by it."
In other words, "I'm ok with playing behind Durant and Westbrook," "I'm ok with coming off the bench," "I know I'll be drafted high, but I'd much rather be the third best player on a good team than the best one on a crappy one." Being a team player is all well and good, but not when you're looking to be paid like the true Alpha Dogs in the NBA. The Kobes, the Melos the Lebrons, et al. All these guys are killers on the court. They WANT to take 40 shots in a game because they are the best players in the game. They WANT take control of the ball and have the offense run through them. Harden hasn't been around long enough to show us anything like that.
Harden should prove that he is clearly, without a doubt an elite top-echelon player BEFORE we can talk about the check. It hardly ever works when it's the other way around.