After trading for shooting guard James Harden, 23, the Houston Rockets signed him to a five-year $80 million contract extension. In return, Harden rewarded Houston with perhaps the best single-game performance in team history.

Opening their season against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan, the Rockets won 105-96. In his team debut, Harden scored 37 points and recorded 12 assists. He is the first Rocket to have 37 points and 12 assists in a game since their second championship season of 1994-95. The player who last recorded that feat was none other than Hall-of-Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon.

It has been quite the tumultuous summer for Harden. Playing his college ball at Arizona State University, he was drafted third overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009. Harden proved to be a valuable player off the bench and with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, they formed the best young nucleus in the NBA. Harden had his best season last year when he averaged close to 17 points per game and won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. He followed that up by winning a gold medal along with teammates Durant and Westbrook at the London Olympics.

Before Harden was traded, Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti wanted to sign him to what was believed to be a four-year, $52million contract extension. Harden, wanting to sign a maximum contract, which would have paid him more money, turned him down. In an age when NBA players can dictate where they play and for how much, Presti was not going to let Harden go without getting something in return. On October 27, Presti traded Harden, along with three other players to Houston for shooting guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb.


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For Houston's part, they receive a young player on the rise and pair him with point guard Jeremy Lin to form one of the best young backcourts in the league. As for Oklahoma City, they lose an invaluable member of their young core of players. It’s their hope that Martin, who has been an effective scorer in years past, reverts to his old self after a season in which he played just 40 games and saw his points per game average drop, along with his field goal and three-point percentage. Oklahoma City also keeps the financial flexibility so many small market teams need to stay afloat and compete with the titans of the league.

With this new contract, expectations have risen for Harden, who Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey called “a foundational player.” It is the hope of Houston that he, along with the rest of the Rockets, will soar into the stratosphere.

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