|Daryl Morey and James Harden are all smiles after pulling off the deal with OKC. (US Presswire)|
If James Harden was at all sad about being traded from the Thunder, where he had close relationships with his teammates, I'm sure he's feeling a little bit better now.
|More on Harden deal|
Harden was traded from the Thunder to the Rockets on Saturday in a shocking blockbuster that sent him along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and multiple picks.
Negotiations with the Thunder stalled out, forcing the trade by Oklahoma City. Harden was eligible for a four-year, $60 million max, something that league sources told CBSSports.com that Harden was only willing to accept. The Thunder reportedly offered something in the $55 million range. When that wasn't acceptable, OKC begin to shop Harden.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey called Harden a "foundational" player at his introductory press conference and now he's being paid like one. Morey has been searching for a star to focus his roster around for some time, missing out on Marc Gasol, then Pau Gasol and most recently Dwight Howard.
The jury is still out with Harden as an alpha dog and even though he says he's ready for it, without ever really seeing him in that role since college, it's hard to know. He's played the last three seasons with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant as offensive crutches to bail him out of a rough game. Now with defenses keying on him and Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik to pass to instead of his two All-Star teammates, things will be different for The Beard.
Still, Harden is an immensely talented player with an incredibly well-rounded skillset. He can score, he can shoot, he can handle, he can create. He's still an average defender, but in terms of the money, he's worth the max. If Houston wouldn't have given it to him, at least five other teams were lined up to do it. The market determined Harden as a max player, and the Rockets were more than happy to give it to him.
What it leaves Houston with though is a whole lot of money tied up between three players. Between Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Harden, the Rockets will be paying those three about $34 million in 2013-14. That's a big chunk of their cap committed to those three players. They aren't built to contend as is and Morey has to be looking for another deal or eyeballing some players in free agency next summer.
Problem is, there won't be a ton of financial flexibility to be had there. They could likely sign one more high profile guy, or use their mid-level exception. But the Rockets are clearly putting their eggs in hope-Harden-is-a-star basket.
Harden, 23, won Sixth Man of the Year last season with the Thunder but will become a starter in Houston and take on the featured offensive role with the Rockets.