Beyond the Boxscore
James Harden is not close to a Dwight Howard-level game changer. He's no Andrew Bynum (knee bruise and all) either. Or even a Pau Gasol.
It's no big stretch to argue that Harden isn't really worth the max-level contract the Houston Rockets are going to give him. The Oklahoma City Thunder very well may be better off in the near future for jettisoning Harden now, too.
But you know what? None of that matters when it comes to the Rockets. For Daryl Morey — and more importantly, Jeremy Lin — need Harden now.
Lin won't be as easy a verbal target for guys like Deron Williams with Harden around.
This Saturday night trade — anything-but-Rockets-happy-veteran Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks and a second round pick for Harden and three spare parts (Cole Aldrich, guard Daequan Cook and forward Lazar Hayward) — is more about giving Lin a chance to be successful than sizing up Harden for superstardom.
With Lin struggling through a preseason so uneven that it even drew idle chatter in the Houston Texans locker room and made some Rockets beat writers treat Friday night's 5-for-10 shooting game like it was Wilt going for 100, Morey couldn't sit still. With much of the excitement over winning Lin in free agency gone (Sports Illustrated picked Houston to finish 14th in the 15-team Western Conference in its season preview issue this week), Morey didn't have the option of waiting for a bigger deal that might never come.
So when Thunder general manager Sam Presti realized he'd never be able to sign Harden to an extension at a price Oklahoma City could stomach, Morey pounced.
The advanced stats fanatic pulled off a deal that immediately makes the Rockets more exciting. Watching Harden, Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik run up and down the floor, to try and win in transition, is something you can at least sell a basketball fan on. It's a much more compelling experiment than the alternative.
This trade is more about giving Lin a chance to be successful than sizing up Harden for superstardom.
It gives Lin a better shot to put up convincing stats as well.
Harden will make Lin look a little better from day one, will give him a chance to grow into something much better. The man with the signature beard isn't just the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year on a very good team. No, Harden is one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league no matter which team he's on.
He's a 6-foot-5 man with a great handle, one who will reduce the ball handling pressure on Lin. The Rockets will not be as dependent on putting the ball in Lin's hands and asking him to make plays for everyone in the half court. Harden can take on some of that role, get Houston some easy points at the free-throw line.
Lin won't be as easy a verbal target for guys like Deron Williams — who claims new Knick Raymond Felton is a better point guard than Linsanity — with Harden around.
In that same Sports Illustrated issue that put the Rockets above only a completely dysfunctional Sacramento Kings franchise, Harden's touted as the most efficient pick-and-roll ballhandler in the entire league. It turns out that when you break down the stats, Harden is the only ballhandler who averages more than a point per possession on the NBA's ever-increasingly-important staple play.
Even LeBron James and Chris Paul can't say that.
Hey, you knew Morey had to have some stats in his corner.
Calling Harden a franchise player as Morey has already started to do is stretching it. But if the 23-year-old (yes Harden is actually younger than Lin) isn't in the club, he at least holds the respect of those who are. LeBron took time to tweet about Harden's move to Houston. Harden won gold with LeBron, Kobe and Paul in London and he already understands greatness in ways that Lin is still learning.
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander called Harden, "one of the most skilled shooting guards in the NBA" in his trade statement.
Alexander is too basketball shrewd to imagine this trade changes everything for his still-searching franchise. But it already makes the Rockets' Halloween night season opener a little less scary.
There's the hope of something new. The real hope of a better Jeremy Lin too.
Watch Harden's most explosive scoring game with the Thunder: