GM says Harden to play 'foundational' role with Houston
By Chris Duncan ,AP
October 31, 2012, 12:02 am TWN
HOUSTON -- Now that they've landed James Harden, the Houston Rockets have grander aspirations in mind.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey officially introduced Harden on Monday, calling him a "foundational" player for the team's ultimate goal of returning to title contention. Harden, last season's Sixth Man of the Year, joined Houston in a stunning trade with Oklahoma City on Saturday night.
"James Harden is a player we can build around, and continue to improve the team around his skills," Morey said. "He's an elite offensive player, a complete player. He can pass, shoot, attack the basket. Even though he's a gold medalist, an Olympian and made the Finals, I still think he's an underrated player. He's absolutely someone who, when they see him step into the role of a star for the Houston Rockets, people are going to realize just how good he is."
The Rockets traded shooting guard Kevin Martin and first-round draft pick Jeremy Lamb to Oklahoma City, along with future draft picks.
Coupled with Jeremy Lin, Morey is hoping that Houston's new high-profile backcourt and the salary cap space created by the deal will attract another star to Houston in the near future.
The Rockets have overhauled their roster since finishing 34-32 last season and missing the playoffs for the third straight year. Houston added Lin and center Omer Asik to join Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson in the projected starting lineup.
Harden was finalizing a long-term contract with Houston on Monday. He says he'll be ready to play when the Rockets open the regular season in Detroit on Wednesday.
Not long after news of the trade leaked out, Harden heard from Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who were also his teammates on the Olympic team. The Rockets visit Oklahoma City on Nov. 28.
Morey acknowledged he was "shocked" that Harden was available, and said the deal came together within a few days last week. The Rockets have been trying to land a first-tier star for years, failing in an aggressive bid to sign Dwight Howard over the summer.
The Rockets were close to getting Pau Gasol before last season in a proposed deal that also would have sent All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Lakers. But NBA Commissioner David Stern, acting on behalf of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, vetoed the deal that would have brought Lamar Odom to the Hornets, along with Luis Scola, Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.
Harden says he'll wear the same No. 13 in Houston that he wore in Oklahoma City.
"It's a new journey for me," Harden said. "It's a new growth for me, to do something special, being one of the focal points of this offense. It's a great opportunity."
Morey expects Harden to start Houston's regular-season opener, a decision ultimately up to coach Kevin McHale. Harden said he's ready to play, even though he was practicing with his new team for the first time on Monday afternoon.
Later Monday, the Rockets waived forwards Jon Brockman and JaJuan Johnson, guards Gary Forbes and Shaun Livingston and guard/forward Lazar Hayward, who was acquired along with Harden from Oklahoma City.
McHale and Morey said before training camp began that the objective this season was making the playoffs. That remains the same, although with Harden on board, it seems much more reachable.
Harden started only seven games in three seasons in Oklahoma City, as he developed into an indispensable reserve. Morey, like McHale, expects Harden to make a seamless transition into a featured role with the Rockets.