Kurt Helin

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James Harden signs four-year, $118 million contract extension to stay with Rockets

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Even when a player wants to stay with his current team, the CBA makes it generally better for them to become a free agent and re-sign with that team than to take a contract extension.

But the glut of cap space for the Rockets allowed them to set up a new four-year, $118 million deal that keeps James Harden as the core of the franchise that now wants to get out and run under coach Mike D’Antoni. Harden gets a raise this season and next on his existing contract — eating up some of the Rockets’ cap space — and then adds two seasons beyond that, with the final year being a player option. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports has the breakdown.

Harden talked about the extension at a press conference.

This is a good deal for the Rockets, who lock up their best player at what is now a slightly below market rate. It’s a good deal for Harden as he gains a little security and gets a nearly $10 million raise this season and next over the contract he was on (which was a max when he signed it).

If Harden shows up in shape this training camp, expect a big season from him. Like maybe leading the league in scoring (I’d bet on him or Russell Westbrook).

The Rockets have had a solid offseason, shifting the roster around to one that better fits what Mike D’Antoni wants to do. They are not a threat to Golden State — Houston will be a mess defensively — but they should take a step forward off last season, plus be entertaining. Which is an improvement.

Larry Bird on free agency: “I couldn’t imagine going to the Lakers and playing with Magic Johnson”

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Do you want to know the biggest reason Larry Bird never left the Boston Celtics in his prime?

He couldn’t.

Free agency as we understand it didn’t exist until 1988, that was after Bird had won his MVPs and titles. Before 1988, even if your contract was up, you could only leave your team if they let you and the team signing you sent them compensation (more of a trade than free agency). Good teams didn’t have to let their best players leave, so they didn’t. We’ll never know how Bird (or Magic or any superstar pre-Jordan) would have handled true free agency as it exists today.

Of course, that’s not how Bird remembers it. No doubt he’s as competitive as anyone who ever played the game, and in speaking with on “SiriusXM NBA Radio” with hosts Mark Boyle and Chris Spatola Bird compared his era with this one and what Kevin Durant did in free agency.

“Well, it’s hard, Mark, because when these players get together and go play it just makes them a lot stronger.  But that’s why we have free agency.  If they stay within the rules I have no problem with it and I’m happy for them but you like to be on a team where you can be competitive.  I know back in the day I couldn’t imagine going to the Lakers and playing with Magic Johnson.  I’d rather try to beat him.  But, you know, these guys are different and I understand a lot of it and it’s within the rules so they can do whatever they do.  I can remember years ago we were fighting, when I played, for free agency, you know, pure free agency so there’d be more movement.  But I could never imagine myself going and joining another team with great players because I had great players and I was in a great situation.”

This will be fuel for the “Durant took the easy way out” crowd, even though with this move Durant put more pressure on himself. Durant had earned the right to choose his working environment, and the same people who will judge him on how many rings he won now complain he took the best route to getting himself those rings — which makes these people hypocrites. Welcome to the Internet.

We’ll never know how Bird and Magic’s careers might have been different — and how the super teams they were lucky enough to be drafted into and were built around them would have changed — in the kind of free agency we have now. Different eras in the NBA are hard to compare for those reasons. But take to the comments and tell me how I’m wrong and everything used to be better back when you were younger — “Make the NBA Great Again.”

Dwyane Wade says no hard feelings toward Pat Riley, who had “to be a businessman. And it sucks.”

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Read between the lines of what Dwyane Wade said on Saturday — speaking for the first time on his leaving the Heat to sign with the Bulls — and he said what a lot of people thought:

He wanted to stay in Miami, but after feeling insulted by their contract offers he wanted to stick it to Pat Riley and Chicago was the best way to do it.

Wade was at his youth camp and spoke to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

“There’s going to be a lot of stuff that’s said about me and Pat,” said Wade, speaking Saturday at his Youth Skills Camp at Jose Marti Gym in Miami. “First and foremost, I love Pat Riley. He’s been someone who has been a figurehead in my life since I got drafted here at 21. But at the same time, he has a job to do. He has a different hat to wear. That hat sometimes is not to be my best friend. That hat is to be the president of the organization, and to be a businessman. And it sucks….

“Because you love somebody so well, you guys love each other, but the business side comes out,” Wade said. “You know? And we have to deal with that. I’m not saying we’ve hugged and cried and shared tears at this moment. But I love Pat and I will always love Pat. And I know he feels the same way about me….

“To go home and play with Chicago is something I’ve always dreamed of since I’ve been a little bitty kid,” Wade said. “It’s cool to be able to make those kind of choices. You see [Kevin Durant] make a choice for me. We’ve seen LeBron (James) make choices for himself. You get killed for it but at the end of the day, if you love the guy, the individual, then you’re happy that they’re able to make that choice and that they seem happy with the choice that they are making.”

Riley was not going to give Wade the “Thank you Kobe Bryant” contract the Lakers gave their star, which hamstrung their efforts to recruit free agents for a couple of years. Riley made the right business decision, the Heat are in a better spot going forward than the Bulls (and the Heat are better right now, if Chris Bosh plays).

When Wade goes into the Hall of Fame, we are going to think of him as a member of the Heat. The same way we picture Karl Malone as a member of the Jazz, Hakeem Olajuwon as a member of the Rockets, Patrick Ewing as a member of the Knicks — all of whom ended their career with other teams, along with many other stars. Wade is the most important player in Heat franchise history.

But he needs to buy some heavy coats and gloves to be ready for the next couple of seasons.

Report: J.R. Smith still expected to sign with Cavaliers

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J.R. Smith won a ring with the Cavaliers last season, having developed into a solid, dependable catch-and-shoot option on the perimeter in Cleveland (something unexpected after his stint in New York). He was valuable in the playoffs (11.5 points per game) and was the shirtless star of the post-title celebrations.

The Cavaliers want him back. He wants to be back. The question remains price, but a deal is expected to get done, reports Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

J.R. Smith, another client of (agent Rich) Paul, is also still out on the market, but he is also expected to re-sign with the club.

Paul’s most famous client is LeBron James, who also has yet to formally re-sign with the Cavaliers. But will. LeBron’s signature could be on hold until After Smith is taken care of.

Smith made $5 million last season with Cleveland, and averaged 12.4 points per game, shooting 40 percent from three.

Rockets’ Chinanu Onuaku breaks out underhanded free throw at Summer League

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The best part of this: Dwight Howard was looking on, having stopped by the NBA TV broadcast at the time. He was surprised to see it.

Rockets rookie big man Chinanu Onuaku broke out his underhanded, granny-style free throw form during a Summer League game in Las Vegas Friday. He got to the line once for two shots and split the pair.

Onuaku went to this style his second season at Louisville (after shooting below 50 percent from the stripe as a freshman) and shot 58.9 percent last season. For the record, Howard shot 48.9 percent last season with the Rockets. So Howard does not get to criticize.