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The new star of the Houston Rockets – James Harden

Me and my friend are avid fans of NBA Basketball. We also love playing NBA 2K. Be it a video game or the real thing, we kept tabs on the latest happenings around the NBA.

And right now, we were in the heat of a discussion.

“Why would you pay James Harden $15 million a year? Is he worth that much?”

After the very successful run of the Oklahoma City Thunder last season that almost landed them an NBA championship, there was no denying they were a team to beat for seasons to come. The team’s core – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and of course James Harden, their chemistry was just amazing. Be it a run and gun offense, or a 24-second set, coach Scott Brooks ran the Thunder like a well-oiled machine. Despite being beaten by the Miami Heat in 5 games, the Thunder showed they can and will dominate the Western Conference. In fact, it is speculated that the recent acquisition of Dwight Howard and the additions of Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison by the Los Angeles Lakers were for the purpose of beating Oklahoma City. Kobe Bryant may still be able to match Kevin Durant. But if the Lakers didn’t do a roster upgrade, they would be ran over by the young Thunder again in the 2012-13 season.

The problem with the Oklahoma City Thunder though wasn’t with its players, but with the team. With max contracts already given to Durant and Westbrook and the luxury tax looming on their salary cap, the Thunder faced a dilemma. Whom to keep – Serge Ibaka or James Harden. On August, Serge Ibaka was signed an extension worth $48 million for four years.  Now it was up to Harden.

This was one development in the Oklahoma City Thunder everyone awaited. Would James Harden would be given a max extension?

Harden was offered $52 million by the Thunder, and he and his agent Rob Pelinka turned it down. They wanted $60 million. With the refusal, Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti went to his Houston Rockets counterpart, Daryl Morey.

After 3 days, the Thunder and the Rockets reached a deal. James Harden would be traded to the Rockets and in return, the Thunder would receive Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and two first round draft picks. The Thunder also sent Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook.

Harden will be signing an extension. But it won’t be with the Thunder.

Again the question. Why pay James Harden $15 million a year? Is he worth that much?

It seems the Rockets think so. They believe Harden would develop into a perennial All-Star, good enough to become the face of the franchise. Together with Jeremy Lin and under the guidance of coach Kevin Mchale, the Rockets believe they have found their new star.

James Harden won the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year. He also won a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics. He is the third leading scorer in the Thunder behind Durant and Westbrook. He can shoot, drive and pass. His offensive abilities can really cause havoc and attention to opposing teams, forcing them to shift defenses and allows Harden’s teammates to benefit from his passing ability.

And you will pay him $15 million for that? To me, Harden can’t be worth that much.

Harden is pretty effective because the defense is exhausted from trying to contain Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Thunder’s devastating one-two combo. When you have two players who can shoot from long distance or finish strong to the rim, you could just imagine players scrambling to catch them whenever they have the ball. Harden comes off the bench and scores high? Why? Because the best defensive players are spent out guarding Durant and Westbrook. When those two sit down, the team also sits its main defense. And that’s when Harden comes in, that’s where he shines as the sixth man. While everyone rests, Harden plays. And scores.

Not to undermine Team USA’s efforts, but Harden’s gold medal from London is hardly a sign of super star brilliance. International basketball is played using a zone defense, something which is prohibited in the NBA. With a zone defense, defensive liabilities like Harden and Carmelo Anthony are covered up. If you doubt this, then ask yourself – how can Carmelo Anthony be a scoring demon in the Olympics, but is just another scorer in the NBA.

The same thing with James Harden. He was pretty much non-existent in the NBA Finals. His 3-pointer was way off and so was his midrange jumper. The Heat clamped down on his dribble drives. From being sixth man, Harden was just a player off the bench during the Finals.

No matter how many points you score in 82 games, those are reverted to zero come playoff time. The NBA dishes out most of its awards based on regular season play. But careers are defined during the playoffs.

I disagree with Daryl Morey. Not until James Harden proves he can score on his own and defend fellow superstars. Until then, no way would I give him $15 million.

 

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