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Step Back and Appreciate James Harden
By Andrew Sharp via SI.com's The Crossover
This story appears in the Jan. 28, 2019, issue of Sports Illustrated.
When James Harden was traded from the Thunder to the Rockets, he once told Sports Illustrated, he felt like he was by himself. He was leaving the only NBA team he'd ever known, separated from a nucleus that was supposed to go to the next 10 Finals, expected to be the cornerstone of a new era in a new city. Daryl Morey, Houston's general manager, was also on his own when the trade went down. He was in his car, taking calls on his Blackberry, doing his best to keep track of his son's soccer game. That's where the deal was finalized. There was little celebration. "You don't get much time to do anything cool," Morey says now. "Once a trade is done, there's a cascade of about 30 things you have to do." Call the owner. Call the business side of the organization. Get a press conference scheduled. "Plus, I was by myself at a soccer game on a Saturday. Which shows you how much I knew it was going to happen. Our best guess was that [the Thunder] were using us as a way to negotiate with James."
An hour before his first Rockets game, Harden signed a five-year, $80 million deal—OKC had been offering $54 million for four years—and then he dropped 37 points in a win over the Pistons. Two nights later he scored 45 in Atlanta. "Back then," Morey says, "his ability to drive and be efficient was something like the best in NBA history. At least that's the data we had. It's always good to start with someone who's the best ever at something."
In the five years since, there have been blockbuster trades, playoff runs, coaching changes, annual MVP campaigns and two more max contracts, totaling $228 million. But there has never been a season like the one Harden is putting together now...
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