The big news in the NBA world (other than the season starting tonight – YIPPEE!!) is of course the Oklahoma City Thunder trading away one of their “Big Three” to the Houston Rockets. When James Harden and the Thunder ended up being a measly (relatively speaking) $6 million over four years apart contract negotiations, OKC thought they better ship The Bearded One out to Houston before he could bolt for nothing next offseason.
But the thing that has made my ears perk up over this trade is Houston GM Daryl Morey calling his new acquisition a “foundational player”. A player that the Rockets can build a championship team around. Am I missing something here? We’re talking about James Harden, right?!
Now don’t get me wrong – Harden is a very nice player. He can score without trying to force it. He can set up teammates. He’s versatile enough to play both backcourt positions. But James Harden is in no way a franchise player. Hell – he was only considered the third-best player on the Thunder (although I would argue he is better than Russell Westbrook). But the main reason you don’t build a team around Harden is he isn’t the type of player you build a team around. He’s a complimentary player, not the star. He hasn’t shown to be a “take charge” type of player on offense – he prefers to defer to teammates (easy to do when you have Kevin Durant and Westbrook on your team) and subtly pick his spots. His skillset just isn’t that of a superstar player. He’s no LeBron James. He’s no Dwight Howard. Or Kobe Bryant. Or Kevin Durant. Or Dirk Nowitzki. Or…. you get the point. He just doesn’t strike me as being anything more than the second or third star on a championship contending team. Not just now – ever.
Yes, he’s still young and he has tons of potential, but normally once a guy has made it through three seasons in the League, we know what type of player he’s going to be. Most “franchise” or “foundational” players have already shown their spots by then. A guy doesn’t just become a super-duper star because you gave him a max contract and deemed him “THE MAN”. And make no mistake about it – you need a super-duper star if you are going to win a NBA title. And the only thing super-duper about James Harden is his beard.