By Ben Golliver
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has cultivated a reputation as one of the NBA's most unemotional and numbers-driven executives, a man so prone to trading his players in recent years that continuity almost became a foreign concept.
On Monday, in the wake of landing Sixth Man of the Year James Harden in a blockbuster deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Morey revealed that he's no stone-faced commodities trader, breaking into a wide smile and cracking a joke when a reporter asked Harden when he started growing his signature beard.
Morey cracked: "What year did he hit puberty? Is that what you're asking?"
The Rockets GM, who had failed to land Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in recent years, had good reason to smile. His roster ranked as one of the worst entering the 2012-13 season, and was set to cast Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik as its centerpieces. Now, in Harden, he has a legit top-30 talent to build around.
Morey didn't bother hiding his glee on Monday, asserting that his trade was essentially unprecedented in NBA history and declaring that Harden, who he called a "foundational" player, would make this year's All-Star Game in 2013, set for Houston's Toyota Center in February.
Here's Morey's take via a Rockets.com transcript.
Shocked. I actually can’t come up with any examples of a player of his caliber and age getting traded at the time he was traded – it really has never happened. So we were obviously very aggressive and we gave up a lot – Oklahoma City does a great job; we gave up some great players in Kevin (Martin) and Jeremy (Lamb) and some great draft picks – but a top player like James really never gets traded so we jumped at the chance.
I actually didn’t think they’d trade him. I think he’s a great, great player. I think he’s already playing at an All-Star level and is going to be a perennial All-Star and those players are rarely traded so I thought, frankly, it was going to work out there. I’m very happy for the Houston Rockets that he’s here.
Then when we were able to talk to James it was real exciting because I think our goals and his goals are aligned: We want to win a championship and this is a place where he can win a championship as a foundational player for a team.
Harden, 23, became available because he sought a four-year, $60 million max extension that the Thunder were not willing to offer. Reports indicate Oklahoma City's best offer was $54 million over four years.
During a Sunday interview, Harden said he was "stunned" by the trade, and that his departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the only professional team he has played for during his three year career, left him at a "loss for words."
Thunder GM Sam Presti, who clearly had the best idea among the involved parties that a trade could be coming, struck a different note during a Sunday press conference, wishing Harden well and stressing that he had to do what was best for the Thunder.
“We made several efforts to try to make this work,” Presti said. “I think there’s a point in every negotiation where you start to realize where things are lining up. At that point you have to play the hand you are dealt. As an organization, we’ve made some tough decisions. This one was right up there with them. But once you know the landscape you have to look at everything and make the decision you feel is best for the franchise.” Harden said Sunday that he expects to sign a contract extension with the Rockets in advance of Wednesday's deadline. Surely we can expect an ecstatic Morey at that press conference as well.