First, the team traded Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb as well as draft picks to acquire James Harden. Then, the Sixth Man of the Year agreed to a five-year extension worth $80 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!:
James Harden has agreed to a 5 year, $80 million deal with Houston, source tells Y!— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) October 31, 2012
The mindset is that James Harden is a future superstar that can lead the team into contention and eventually championships. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey called him a "foundational player" and the team can build around him (via ESPN).
Unfortunately, this will likely be a case of wasted money.
There is no denying that Harden is a very good player. He was the third-leading scorer on the Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder. However, it will be more difficult to get points with his new team.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the best in the NBA at putting the ball in the basket. They were the first- and fifth-leading scorers in the league last year respectively, and demanded a large amount of attention from opposing defenses.
With Houston, there are no established scorers to keep the focus away from Harden. The guard will be the first person mentioned in every scouting report, and he has not proven at the NBA level that he can overcome that.
In addition, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, though prestigious, is not usually an indication of future success.
In the last five years, none of the winners have ever been able to duplicate their production after winning the award. Leandro Barbosa and Manu Ginobili each had a career high in points in the year they won, while Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom were all deep into their careers and were already on the decline.
Players that succeed off the bench are usually unexpected. However, those men slow down offensively once the secret is out.
Can James Harden be the best player on a championship team?
This all highlights the future problems on offense, which is the successful part of Harden's game. Defensively, the Rockets might be in a lot of trouble this season.
One of the reasons that the young guard came off the bench throughout the season was due to the defensive prowess of Thabo Sefolosha. The Swiss veteran had the size and strength that Harden lacked to defend the top guards in the NBA.
Pairing Harden with Jeremy Lin in the backcourt is a recipe for disaster on defense. An opponent with any size or quickness should be able to get to the basket with ease, with only Omer Asik as a safety net.
Harden has a very good future ahead of him, but only as a role player on a good team. There is little chance that he will ever be the best player on a championship-level team.
This should be the defining characteristic of a player that is given a contract of that magnitude. Unfortunately for the Rockets, it appears to be too late.