HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden never wants to leave Houston and is intent on bringing another NBA title to the city the Californian now considers home.
And the Rockets are doing everything possible to make sure the Beard gets exactly what he wants.
The clearest evidence of that came a week ago when they signed him to the biggest contract in league history: a four-year, “supermax” extension that guarantees $228 million over the next six seasons.
“I know where I want to retire ultimately and I know where I want to win a championship,” Harden said Saturday. “Everything is going to happen in Houston and that’s the reason I’m here forever.”
Since orchestrating the trade that brought Harden to Houston from Oklahoma City in 2012, general manager Daryl Morey has known he had a cornerstone player to build a team around. To him, shelling out that much money to keep the 27-year-old off the free agent market until the 2022-23 season was a no-brainer.
“Some of our decisions are hard. This one’s easy,” Morey said. “We’d do more if we could. This was the most they allow us to do.”
The contract extension followed the Rockets’ trade for nine-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul late last month, giving Harden another superstar to help chase Houston’s first title since the Rockets won two in a row in 1994-95.
There have been questions about how the two will fit together in Houston after Harden had the finest season of his career while playing point guard in first-year coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. But Harden isn’t worried about that.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever seen anything like this before,” he said. “Two guys that can create and facilitate and just do things with the ball that nobody’s done from the one position and the shooting guard position. So it’s going to be fun. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Harden finished second in MVP voting last season behind Russell Westbrook after ranking second in the league with 29.1 points per game and first with 11.2 assists. He had 64 double-doubles last year after combining for just 67 in the first seven seasons of his career, and notched 22 triple-doubles after getting just nine total before last season.
“I’ve coached a lot of people and watched a lot of games and the stuff that he did day in and day out was incredible,” D’Antoni said. “Now I’m just so excited that he’s going to be here for a long time.”
Harden’s brilliant season ended with a thud when the Rockets were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in a 39-point loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Harden didn’t attempt a shot until halfway through the second quarter of the blowout and finished with 10 points to tie a season low.
That loss still weighs on Harden, who shouldered the blame for the defeat in the hours after the game.
“For sure it motivates me,” he said. “Of course it wasn’t how we wanted it to end … but that’s what life is about. You get tested and you go through certain things where things don’t happen your way … you have to sit back, look at how you can be better and go out there and just be better at it. And if you fail, do it again.”
Harden is excited about his new deal and humbled to have signed the richest contract in NBA history. However, he insists that all those zeros in his bank account will be hollow if he doesn’t take the Rockets to the next level.
“Money is cool … but it doesn’t really mean anything without holding that championship up,” Harden said. “So that’s what we’re working toward. That’s why I’m in the gym every single day and I won’t stop until I get it.”