James Harden: Star Guard Must Prove He Can Succeed as Top Gun for Rockets

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: James Harden #12 of the United States celebrates winning the Men's Basketball gold medal game between the United States and Spain on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympics Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 12, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

With James Harden very likely to secure a max deal from the Houston Rockets after being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the star guard is about to be paid like the man.

The question is, can he actually become the man for Houston?

Harden is the defending Sixth Man of the Year, which is akin to winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But in Oklahoma City, Harden never had to be the leading man—Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook generally shouldered that responsibility.

Now it's Harden's time to prove he can live up to expectations with top billing in Houston. With a huge contract likely on the way and the bounty it took to acquire him, you can bet Houston's fans will be expecting huge things from day one.

What makes it even more interesting is that his sidekick in Houston's face lift, Jeremy Lin, is also fairly unproven in his new role of running a team from the point guard position. We still don't know if Lin will have success away from Mike D'Antoni's offense, which birthed Linsanity.

Plus, Houston generally has a very young team. There is a lot of potential there, sure, but Harden is going from an experienced Thunder team fresh off an NBA Finals appearance to a youthful Rockets' side.

In other words, even more pressure on Harden to put this team on his shoulders.

Listen, I loved the trade for Houston. As I wrote yesterday, I think Harden and Lin make up the most intriguing backcourt in the NBA this season. I think Harden is a stud, and he shouldn't have any problem putting the ball in the bucket for Houston.

But I'm not sold on him as a top option on a team just yet. I still see him as more of a Manu Ginobili or Ray Allen with the Celtics than a Kobe Bryant or a pre-LeBron Dwyane Wade. I know he can fill it up when he gets going, but I don't know if he can consistently come up in the clutch or carry the Rockets on his back when the rest of the team is struggling.

That will be the test this year. That will be what determines if he is worth the boatload of money he'll soon sign for and the huge price the Rockets paid to land him in the first place. That will be the difference between he and Lin being an intriguing backcourt and being an excellent one.

Harden and his beard have made Houston a team to watch this season. Whether the bearded one will also make Houston a playoff team that consistently wins remains one of the most interesting questions of the season.


Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are clutch like Romo. Sergio Romo, that is.

Follow TRappaRT on Twitter