The story behind the bearded wonder's quick departure from OKC to the Houston Rockets is, by now, well known.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti offered the soon-to-be restricted free agent a contract extension worth $52 million over four years, but according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Harden and his agent, Rob Pelinka, wanted a max contract of four years, $60 million.
The Thunder were incapable—and unwilling—of going that extra $8 million, so they promptly shipped the 23-year-old to Houston before he hit the market at the end of the year.
The question now remains: Do the Rockets give Harden the contract that the Thunder were so afraid of? It shouldn't come as a surprise, as there was obviously a reason Daryl Morey traded for the young star, but the answer to that question is a resounding "yes." And then some.
Houston wanted Harden badly, believed he would evolve into a transcendent franchise star for a championship-caliber team and planned to award him a five-year maximum contract worth nearly $80 million.
In those finals hours on Saturday, the NBA made clear to Oklahoma City and Houston: Under no circumstances could Morey and Pelinka discuss a potential contract extension. Nevertheless, it was understood Morey would never let Wednesday's deadline pass without giving Harden the five-year max extension that wasn't available in Oklahoma City.
Now that the max contract seems inevitable, there's only one thing left to debate. Is Harden worth it?
To start, let's take a look at his basic stats.
In last year's Sixth Man of the Year campaign, Harden averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 steal per game. If you extrapolate those numbers to a per-36-minute basis, those numbers climb to 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
He shot 49.1 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range with 1.8 made per game and 84.6 percent from the line.
In the last 10 years, according to Basketball Reference, only 18 guards (some did it more than once, equaling 41 total occasions) have put together a season of at least 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and one steal per 36 minutes.
Of the 41 individual seasons on that list, James Harden ranks fifth in field-goal percentage behind Chris Paul and three Dwyane Wade seasons. He ranks fifth in three-point percentage behind Stephen Curry, Manu Ginobili twice and Ray Allen.
He ranks first in the least amount of field-goal attempts needed.
It was quietly a very historic season for the 22-year-old.
But his worth goes even deeper. Let's take a look at the advanced stats.
According to DraftExpress.com, Harden ranked fourth in the NBA in true shooting percentage—which takes into account free throws, two-point shots and three-pointers—at 65 percent. He was third in points per play at 1.11 behind two guys—Tyson Chandler and Matt Bonner—who were used a lot less on the offensive end.
Essentially, Harden was arguably—and there's not really a good argument for anyone else—the most efficient player in the NBA last season.
Of course, his new situation is going to be a little different. Even I could luck into a basket or seven with defenses having to focus on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Harden had a pretty easy job in OKC, but he'll be the new leader in Houston, the go-to guy, the target of every team's Shane Battier.
Harden may not be headed for another 2012 season in terms of efficiency, but this guy wasn't born playing with KD and Westbrook. There's a reason he put Arizona State on the map, a reason he was drafted No. 3 overall by the Thunder.
That reason, most notably, is his versatility.
From the brilliant minds at Hickory-High.com:
What you're looking at is OKC's efficiency in certain unique situations.
The most efficient, unsurprisingly, is Serge Ibaka cutting to the hoop. Second on the list is James Harden in spot-up situations. After Durant in spot-ups, Harden comes in with the next two spots in isolations and pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler.
Harden, on this offensive powerhouse of a team, was the most efficient scorer as a pure shooter, most efficient in one-on-one situations and most efficient in pick-and-rolls, an increasingly common play in the NBA.
Again, he often drew weaker defenders, but it's difficult to argue against Harden—an elite dribbler with terrific vision, spectacular shooting ability and crafty, veteran-like finishing moves around the basket—having success no matter where he is.
Does James Harden deserve a max contract?
If you're still having trouble convincing yourself that Harden deserves a max contract, take the market into account.
Brook Lopez, a 7-footer who rebounds as well as Rajon Rondo (seriously), and Eric Gordon, an elite scorer with chronic knee problems, already have max contracts.
James Harden is a 23-year-old who has improved every season, is dangerously efficient and versatile on both ends of the court and has had no major injuries during his NBA career.
You do the $80 million math.