BY JON KRAWCZYNSKI
LAS VEGAS (AP) — James Harden became a star in Houston, and now he’s ready to call the city home.
Harden signed a four-year, “supermax” extension Saturday, a whopper of a deal that guarantees Harden about $228 million over the next six seasons and makes it the richest contract in league history.
The extension alone tacks another $170 million or so — depending on how the salary cap escalates — on to a contract that still had two more years and nearly $60 million remaining. It’s a mammoth deal befitting one of the league’s brightest stars, which is exactly what the Beard has become in five seasons with the Rockets.
“Since he arrived in Houston, James has exhibited the incredible work ethic, desire to win, and passion to be the best that has made him one of the most unique and talented superstars in the history of the game,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said in a statement issued by the team. “Additionally, the commitment he has shown to our organization, the city of Houston, and Rockets fans all over the world makes him a perfect leader in our pursuit of another championship.”
The deal keeps Harden under contract through the 2022-23 season, a lifetime in the modern NBA financial landscape in which so many superstars take short-term deals to maximize their earning potential. While anything can happen, this is about as much security as a player can get.
Harden is coming off of his finest season. Moving to point guard for new coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden averaged 29.1 points, an NBA-leading 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds and finished second in the MVP race to former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook.
“Houston is home for me,” Harden said. “Mr. Alexander has shown he is fully committed to winning and my teammates and I are going to keep putting in the work to get better and compete for the title.”
Most importantly for the Rockets in the immediate future is that the extension will not affect Houston’s aggressive pursuit of free agents this summer as the Rockets try to make a run at the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets finished third in the Western Conference regular season last year but know they have plenty of ground to make up if they hope to truly challenge the defending champions.
ESPN first reported the contract details.
Harden’s do-it-all season helped the Rockets bounce back from a massively disappointing 2015-16 season that collapsed under the weight of chemistry issues with the All-Star guard and big man Dwight Howard. With Howard gone, the Rockets put Harden at the center of everything they do on offense, and it paid off in a major way.
Houston went 55-27 in the regular season and beat Westbrook and the Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference semifinals.
Harden seemed to run out of gas a bit in their semifinals loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and GM Daryl Morey has worked quickly to get him some help this summer.
Morey traded for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, a bold move that gives the Rockets as talented a backcourt as any team in the league. Morey also signed rugged forward P.J. Tucker to boost the defense and brought Nene back as well.
And he’s not done yet.
This mechanics for this extension are new to the NBA in the latest version of the collective bargaining agreement. Harden was named first team All-NBA, making him eligible for a lucrative, four-year extension that also sends a message to the rest of the league that the Rockets are committed to stability as they try to challenge the Warriors in the West.
Morey has never been bashful about hunting big game and Alexander has shown time and again that he will give his general manager the financial resources to go for it.
With Harden locked up for the next six years, it’s time to go hunting again.
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