James Harden's record contract extension lays groundwork for 'super team' In Houston

Harden to remain bearded face of Rockets through 2022-23 season

Fran Blinebury

Fran Blinebury NBA.com

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Jul 9, 2017 6:59 PM ET

5:34

James Harden posted career highs in points (29.1), rebounds (8.1) and assists (11.2) for a third straight season.

MVP votes and championships notwithstanding, James Harden finally found a way to get past Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry where it counts most.

Houston signed Harden to a four-year contract extension for about $160 million Saturday, according to league sources, giving him a total six-year deal with $228 million guaranteed.

It's the richest contract in NBA history and will keep Harden in a Rockets uniform long enough for The Beard to grow down to his ankles.

Maybe by that time he’ll grow into the kind of leader that does more than pile up gaudy statistics and put on a show during the regular season.

There is no arguing that the numbers are impressive. Harden led the league in assists (11.2), finished second in scoring (29.1) and for the third consecutive season put up career bests in points, assists and rebounds (8.1).

Harden became the first player in NBA history to crack 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in the same season. He was also responsible for an awesome 56.2 points per game produced from his shots and passes. Give him another handful of seasons playing under Mike D’Antoni, the offensive mad scientist, and those video game totals could go through the highest roof.

In an age when everybody in the league yearns for their own “super team” and the buddy-buddy nature of today’s players makes jumping cities to play with friends as trendy as the latest designer clothing, it makes perfect sense for the Rockets to lock up such an unstoppable force and scoring weapon all the way through the 2022-23 season when he’ll be pulling down close to $47 million.

It was, according to Rockets management, the presence of The Beard that got Chris Paul to Houston. He was tired of the bad karma that kept tripping up the Lob City gang in L.A. and decided to bolt for Houston to play with his Team USA friend Harden, even if it turns out to be for just one year before he joins his banana boat buddy LeBron James back on the West Coast.

You can’t start a “super team” without your foundational superstar and Harden, with his uncanny ability to score from anywhere on the court and his willingness and adroit skill to feed the ball to his teammates, would seem a likely magnet drawing other free agents like metal filings, as evidenced by Carmelo Anthony saying he’d tear up the no-trade clause in his contract to join the Rockets.

General manager Daryl Morey, who was sworn to live by the “3s, layups and free throws” mantra and virtually exile anyone who’d dare try to make a living shooting traditional jumpers, has been willing to add Paul, who thrives on mid-range shots, because, well, he’s a star.

When asked to describe his philosophy recently, Morey said: “Get more USA Basketball team members.”

So as long as team owner Leslie Alexander continues shaking millions out of his sofa cushions, the analytics crew has a real plan.

Morey says chasing the Golden State Warriors is now “a weapons race” and there is no doubt that the Rockets have two high-caliber types for the 2017-18 season, assuming that it works out better than the last time.

The skies were blue and full of sunshine when Dwight Howard joined the Rockets in the summer of 2013 and the pairing with Harden did get the Rockets to the Western Conference finals in 2015, thanks in large part to a collapse of Paul’s Clippers when they held a 3-1 lead on Houston.  But it ended in acrimony when Harden and Howard could not co-exist and the big man chose to bolt in 2016.

Harden returned last season more reflective and saying he was more committed to his craft, his career, to leading his team and did that through the brilliant regular season.

However, when the playoffs ended with a stunning 39-point loss at home to a Spurs team playing without injured Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, Harden bottomed out.  It wasn’t simply a case of his shooting 2-for-11, but not even attempting a single shot until 18 minutes into the game and the Rockets down by 20.

When it was over, Harden left the locker room without comment and still has given no explanation for his disappearance on the court.

Now the Rockets have their marquee name and stat machine locked up for the foreseeable future.

Is that enough?

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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