NBA AM: James Harden Puts Houston On His Back
The Houston Rockets have been tirelessly searching for a franchise player ever since it became apparent the days of Yao Ming dominating the paint were nearing an end. For a franchise with a storied history, Houston has been struggling to lure marquee free agents to the organization in recent years, which has resulted in the team missing the playoffs for the past three seasons.
Before this season, seeking star power and taking a calculated risk, Houston traded for shooting guard James Harden, the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden had big dreams and a vision of being a franchise player. In Oklahoma City, Harden’s ceiling was a supporting cast member with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already firmly entrenched as Oklahoma City’s future.
As we head into the All-Star break, the gamble by the Rockets’ front office has seemingly paid off. The Rockets are 29-26 and are positioned to snap their postseason drought and Harden has become an All-Star while strapping the franchise to his back en route to putting up 26.1 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per night.
“The moves that are very hard to pull off and rarely come available are getting All-Star caliber guys,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports. “To get James in the prime of his career — not even the prime, but at a stage where he’s still improving — and have an All-Star at 23, it really meant everything to our plan.”
The Rockets immediately signed Harden to a max deal worth $80 million over the next five years. Harden’s play has generated the respect from his peers, including LeBron James who is arguably the best player in the game today.
“He’s made superstar status,” James said. “He’s worthy of the max contract he received from that team, and he can do a little bit of everything.”
While Harden represents the budding star the Rockets have been seeking on the roster, there is still work to be done to the lineup in order to get the club to contender status. Harden has publicly gone on record saying he would actively recruit this summer to help Morey attract the necessary talent. For now, Harden is focusing on being the leader of a young team.
“I felt kind of hurt and disappointed leaving those guys, leaving something special, especially being around Kevin and Russell all summer after (the) Finals (with the Olympic gold medal-winning Team USA),” Harden said of leaving Oklahoma City. “Probably a month after the trade, I started getting used to it and started figuring it out that this is my team now, and this is what I have to do. I have to be a leader now. I have a new role.”
The Rockets currently enjoy a three-game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference over the fading Portland Trail Blazers.
Trouble Brewing In Charlotte With Ben Gordon?
The Charlotte Bobcats acquired Ben Gordon before the start of the season to provide veteran leadership and to specifically aid in the development of young guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson. Through the early going. the relationship seemed to be on solid footing. Walker emerged a bona fide young player to watch and Gordon served as a late-game closer of sorts for head coach Mike Dunlap.
But according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the relationship between Gordon and Dunlap may be on the rocks. Gordon appears to be frustrated by Dunlap’s penchant for having a quick trigger and yanking him from game situations. In the latest incident, Gordon reportedly wouldn’t stop bouncing a ball while Dunlap was addressing the team for their upcoming opponent.
The Bobcats have been rumored to be shopping Gordon as of late, with Brooklyn potentially being a frontrunner to acquire the veteran. Gordon is the Bobcats’ highest-paid player this season at $12.4 million and the team desperately needs help in the frontcourt. Gordon is an attractive piece to a team in the playoff hunt and with the ongoing distraction, Bobcats general manager Rich Cho may be forced to engage in more active trade talks to help his rookie coach keep control of the locker room.
LeBron James’ Recent ‘Historic’ Stretch
Miami HEAT forward LeBron James has been an even more dominant force as we enter the All-Star Break. While Michael Jordan has recently went on record saying he’d choose Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant over a prime James, there’s no denying that when it’s all said and done James will likely have his name firmly engraved in the greatest players to ever lace them up conversation along with Jordan and Bryant – barring injury.
HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy and Yannis Koutroupis discuss James’ dominant play and historic six-game stretch in the latest episode of HOOPSWORLD TV.