Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?
I know I do.
Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.
His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.
But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.
Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.
Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.
Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:
“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”
Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.
But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.
For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.
I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.