James Harden on Houston: 'I'm here forever'

HOUSTON — A big smile peeked out from behind James Harden‘s famously bushy beard as the Rockets superstar was asked how it felt to have signed the richest contract in NBA history.

“Sounds good,” Harden said during a Saturday news conference to announce the four-year maximum contract extension that means he will make $ 228 million over the next six seasons. “But honestly, the only thing at this point of my career is winning, to get a championship.

“It’s cool. I’ve worked extremely hard. Thanks to [Rockets owner Leslie] Alexander for giving me that opportunity, but it doesn’t really mean anything without holding that championship up. That’s what we’re working toward. That’s why I’m in the gym every single day, and I won’t stop until I get it.”

Harden said the contract symbolizes a lifetime commitment to the Rockets, the franchise that traded for him in 2012 and has built around him since then.

“I know where home is,” said Harden, an All-Star all five of his seasons in Houston. “I know where I want to be. I know where I want to retire ultimately and where I want to win a championship. Everything is going to happen here in Houston, and that’s the reason I’m here forever.”

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who made a blockbuster deal in June to pair Chris Paul with Harden, described it as an “easy” decision to commit to a max extension with the 27-year-old Harden with two seasons left on his current contract.

“We would do more if we could,” Morey said. “This is the most they allow us to do. You work your whole career if you’re myself to get a player of James’ caliber and now Chris’ caliber. We’re excited. … We would have done longer and more money if we could.”

Harden, who ranked second in the NBA in scoring (29.1 PPG) and first in assists (11.2 APG) last season, played a critical role in recruiting Paul to the Rockets because he recognized that he needed help for Houston to be a legitimate title contender. Morey made a blockbuster deal to acquire Paul in late June after the nine-time All-Star point guard made it clear to the LA Clippers that he would opt out of the final year of his contract and sign with the Rockets in free agency if not traded to Houston.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever seen anything like this before,” Harden said of his partnership with Paul, pairing two of the NBA’s premier playmakers in a backcourt. “Two guys that can create and facilitate and do things with the ball that nobody’s done from the [point guard] and shooting guard position. It’s going to be fun.”

Harden said neither player would be identified as the point guard or shooting guard when they are on the court together, stressing that they both are happy not to have to dominate the ball as much as they have in the past. Harden said he looks forward to more catch-and-shoot opportunities and being able to occasionally just run the floor with several possessions in a row while Paul creates.

Harden said he firmly believes that the addition of Paul gives Houston immediate championship hope.

“For sure,” Harden said. “We added a Hall of Famer, a guy whose IQ is probably one of the best to ever do it, his passing ability. Defensively, he’s a beast. It just brings so much to our team that we didn’t really have. Adding him to help other guys, to help guys like Clint [Capela], it makes our team that much better. Going to compete [for] a championship against a team like Golden State, the defending champions, you have to have that ability on the court to give yourselves a chance.”

The Rockets, who won 55 games and advanced to the second round with Harden producing historic numbers last season, hope they aren’t done with their offseason renovation. Sources said Houston management remains optimistic that the Rockets will be able to land Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks in a multi-team trade despite talks being on pause at this point.

Morey credited Harden, who is consistently consulted on personnel moves, for making it possible for the front office to make major upgrades to the roster.

“My job every day is to try to put the players around him to win a championship,” Morey said. “That’s our only goal here. I know that’s James’ only goal. His ability to recruit other players like Chris Paul, like all the players around the team, is the modern way that I think teams are going to be built. Get a cornerstone player like James and have him bring everyone to the party in Houston.”

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