Will James Harden Trade Allow Houston Rockets to Join NBA's Elite Teams?

Mike Shiekman@TheRealShiekContributor IMarch 30, 2017

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22: James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets have traded some of their long-term flexibility for victories this season.

They snagged James Harden and will sign him to an extension before next week’s deadline. In the process, Houston had to give up Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a couple first-round picks.

The Rockets had been looking for a star player, trying to put together a package for Dwight Howard all summer. Instead, they essentially filled their 2012 cap room with Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Royce White and Terrence Jones.

A ton of new pieces for coach Kevin McHale to put in place, but does this new core raise Houston into the NBA’s elite?

It’s a tough question to answer, with so many unknowns expected to contribute to this squad. We have yet to see Lin play a large sample size of NBA games playing starter’s minutes. Ditto for Asik, who’s expected to be the Rockets' defensive anchor.

Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy notes the Rockets' inexperience:

Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Omer Asik are the cornerstones of the Rockets. A lot of potential, but they've started a combined 34 games.

— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) October 28, 2012

The most telling stat from this trade is that the Rockets' oldest contributing player is Asik, at 26 years old. Besides him, the Rockets' cast stands at 23 years or younger.

If you believe in the ideology that experience breeds winning, give the Rockets a few more years. On the other hand, look at Harden’s old team, the OKC Thunder. They took those clichés about experience and stampeded all over them like a pack of bulls.

Much of the Rockets' success, it seems, will fall on their newest acquisition, but how Harden adjusts from being the third-best offensive player on the team to the No. 1 option?

“The Beard” plays a lot like Manu Ginobili, who has been scoring points and winning games in San Antonio for an entire career.  

Yahoo! Sports Marc J. Spears has Harden scoring a boatload of points in a Rockets uniform:

Could @jharden13 lead the @nba in scoring with Rockets?

— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) October 28, 2012

Then again, Ginobili always had Tim Duncan and Tony Parker by his side. Are Lin and Asik comparable? Harden wishes.

The Rockets are not short on role players, full of pick-and-pop partners in Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris. If Harden and Lin step into superstar roles, they’ll have a bunch of viable parts to fill in the rest. Their pick-and-roll game could be especially deadly with both stars at the controls.

Plus, the Rockets' draft picks will have to come in and make plays right away. Royce White and Terrence Jones both certainly have the tools to contribute from day one and be more than just complementary players.

If Harden, Lin and Asik can increase their production in bigger roles, proving that they were held back by their former teams, the Rockets can compete in the playoff hunt.

The term "elite," though, may be wishful thinking. They will need a ton of “Beardsanity” to make that leap.


Mike Shiekman is a Breaking News Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow NBA news and commentary from him on Twitter @TheRealShiek