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Why James Harden Signing Long-Term with Houston Rockets Is the Right Move

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Why James Harden Signing Long-Term with Houston Rockets Is the Right Move
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Almost nothing about James Harden being traded to the Houston Rockets feels right.

Except for the former Oklahoma City Thunder star inking a max extension, that is.

A number of mitigating factors "forced" the Thunder to deal Harden to the Rockets, none more significant than that of the almighty dollar.

So it makes perfect sense for the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year to sign a long-term extension in Houston.

Which, according to Jonathan Feigan of the Houston Chronicle, is exactly what Harden plans to do.

Does such an occurrence sting? Of course, especially if you reside in Oklahoma City.

In a perfect world, finances wouldn't have been an issue, and the Thunder would have been free to offer Harden the world.

But the NBA, in all of David Stern's glory, is far from a perfect world. Harden's departure from what was considered an inseparable family, serves as a painstaking reminder of how detrimental the new CBA—as it strives to promote "competitive balance"—can be to even a small-market team.

Which is why Harden shouldn't just sign an extension in Houston—he needs to.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com breaks down the Harden trade.

There are plenty of teams who would offer the guard a four-year deal worth roughly $58 million when he hits the restricted free-agent market this summer, but if he was looking to make that kind of money, he'd still be in Oklahoma City, with the team that offered him between $53-$54 million.

Instead, though, Harden is with the Rockets, who—as Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated noted—can offer him a five-year contract worth almost $80 million.

If he declined to sign such an extension, that would imply his divorce from the Thunder came down to something more than finances. And let's face it, if it came down to anything else, the two parties would have been able to make it work.

Sure, we could believe that the perennial sixth man was unhappy with his role as a bench player. We could also believe that Harden felt he couldn't reach his full potential playing barely 30 minutes per game.

But we'd be fools to believe that he and Oklahoma City couldn't have powered through such barriers.

If a spot within the starting rotation is truly what Harden craved, do we honestly think the Thunder wouldn't have relegated Thabo Sefolosha to the bench?

Absolutely not.

Harden has been instrumental for OKC off the bench, but that wasn't enough for him anymore.

The bearded wonder was invaluable off the bench, yet if this came down to his role on the team—and not the paychecks he was cashing—Oklahoma City would have been prepared to rework its rotation.

But they didn't have to, because it wasn't about that.

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This was about Harden, and his desire to have his status as a superstar solidified by being paid like one. 

This was about him believing he had settled enough, made enough of a compromise by willingly diminishing his role.

This was about years of self-sacrifice finally being trumped by the need to satisfy one's own ego, the need to establish an evolved sense of worth.

This was about Harden wanting and needing what the Thunder couldn't provide. But what Houston can.

So yeah, re-upping with the Rockets is the smart move, because it's the only move.

Unless Harden wants his departure from a team he himself said was "like family" to have been in vain.

 

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