Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today

Rockets Should Be Thankful James Harden May Never Want To Leave

Harden has bucked the trend and avoided free agency since joining the Rockets

November 20, 2018 - 4:16 pm

By Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)

After introducing free agent signees Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon on July 10, 2016, the Rockets made an announcement that mattered more than giving those two guys a combined $153 million for the next four seasons. As they left the podium inside Toyota Center’s dimly lit press conference room, James Harden stepped to it, and then-owner Les Alexander declared Harden and the team had agreed to a new four-year contract.

"So, he'll be around here for while," Alexander said. I don't think people appreciate how great he is, but we certainly do."

The extension took many by surprise, not because they didn't feel Harden was worth the commitment, but because the Rockets had followed a dreadful 41-41 regular season with an embarrassing first round playoff exit. They then missed on their top two targets in free agency (Al Horford and Kent Bazemore) after failing to even get a meeting with Kevin Durant. Harden had two years left on the five year extension he signed with the Rockets after the trade that brought him to Houston from Oklahoma City, and it wasn’t far-fetched to think he might be looking for a way out of town, instead, he doubled down on a situation that didn't seem all that great at the time.

“He mostly trusted the guys upstairs, and ever since I’ve been here everything’s just been free flowing,” Gordon told SportsRadio 610 after the Rockets 132-112 win over the Sacramento Kings Saturday night.

In 2018, the biggest stories in the NBA have seemingly very little to do with what actually happens on the floor. Instead, all the attention has gone to free agency and the contracts of certain star players. Last season was about LeBron James’ future with the Cavs, over the summer Kawhi Leonard dominated the headlines until he was finally dealt to Toronto. The start of this season was marred by Jimmy Butler’s desire to play out the final year of his contract away from Minnesota, and everything came to a head when Draymond Green reportedly mentioned Kevin Durant’s contract status (he can be a free agent after the season) in his blow up during and after a game last Monday in Los Angeles. With Harden, the Rockets don’t have that concern.

“This was to eliminate (distractions) and focus on the Houston Rockets and how we can get better each and every year,” Harden said on that day in 2016.

He signed a second extension almost a year later worth around $170 million, so he’s under contract with the Rockets through at least 2021-22 with a player’s option for close to $47 million the season after that.

“He’s gonna be here,” Gordon said. “He’s been with this organization for a long time now. He’s done well here, and doesn’t really make to much sense for him to leave, so I just know he’s gonna be here.”

Gordon told SportsRadio 610 he expects Harden to remain with the Rockets the rest of his career, and while Chris Paul said Tuesday that Harden’s long-term contract had nothing to do with his desire to join the Rockets 17 months ago, having the league MVP signed for the prime of his career gives the Rockets a level of stability every team craves.

“It’s good to have James locked in here because of what he’s done for the city of Houston,” Rockets guard Gerald Green said Tuesday. “The culture he’s brought with this team, I think that the people in Houston and the organization couldn’t be more fond of having a player like James Harden on the team.

“I'm honored to get to play with him everyday and not, so I’m glad I don’t have to worry about the other shenanigans.”

Green joked that its easy to be committed to a team that is paying you $215 million, and Harden did get a healthy raise when the team renegotiated and extended his contract in 2016, but the money was always going to be there for him. He could’ve waited to see how his first season with Mike D’Antoni turned out before locking himself into extra years with a team that had just finished .500 and advanced past the first round of the playoffs once in four seasons, but instead, he trusted his new coach, he trusted general manager Daryl Morey, and most important, he trusted his teammates, some of whom he had never played with, and in doing so, he’s won one MVP, finished second for another while the Rockets have enjoyed their most successful seasons in over 20 years, and  as Gordon says, there’s no reason to think that won’t continue for awhile. 

“The thing is, when he sees a good team around him and we’re winning and he’s in such a great city with good fans, you just can’t leave something like that.”