By Ben Golliver
To the traded go the spoils.
The Rockets have signed guard James Harden, the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year, to a five-year contract extension worth approximately $80 million, according to reports by Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com. The Rockets officially announced the signing on Wednesday night.
The two sides faced a Wednesday deadline to reach a deal, otherwise Harden would have proceeded toward restricted free agency next summer.
Harden was traded last week by the Thunder to the Rockets, where he will step into a franchise-player role. Houston was able to offer a fifth year on the contract that Oklahoma City was unable to give, as the Thunder had already used its "designated-player" tag on All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.
Harden, 23, was moved to the Rockets because he sought a four-year, $60 million max extension that the Thunder were not willing to offer. Reports indicated Oklahoma City’s best offer was $54 million over four years.
Harden said on Sunday that a deal with the Rockets was coming.
“Yes, yes I do,” Harden said, when asked if he thought he would reach agreement on a deal in advance of Wednesday's deadline. “I’ll let them figure that out with my agent. My focus right now is Houston and how I can make them better. … I feel like I can help build it and bring my talents over here.”
Rockets GM Daryl Morey indicated in a press conference that he saw Harden as a "foundational" player for his franchise.
"I think he’s a great, great player," Morey said. "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."
Harden posted his reaction to the deal on Twitter on Wednesday: "I just want to thank God for every thing he has done in my life. I really am a believer!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The terms of the deal do not come as a surprise, and Harden is worth the money. Harden, a gold medal winner at the 2012 London Olympics, averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 steals in 31.4 minutes off of the Thunder’s bench last season. A dynamic offensive player who can shoot the three and create off the dribble, Harden is well-equipped for a smooth transition into a No. 1 scoring role for the rebuilding Rockets. He joins Clippers forward Blake Griffin as the only members of the 2009 class to receive max extensions. That's as it should be: the pair have clearly distanced themselves from the rest of the pack on the court.
As noted Saturday night, this contract is one aspect of a nice consolation prize package for Harden. While he doesn't get to continue making deep playoff runs with his close friends on the Thunder, he does get: a big market and gigantic fan base; an ownership group committed to winning; a proactive GM looking to cash in minor assets for major players with flexibility to do so; no dead-weight contracts or bad attitudes around him slowing down the process or making life unnecessarily difficult; and as many shots as he can take and as many starter’s minutes as he can play. All that, plus, officially now, as much salary as the Rockets are legally allowed to given him.