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.