HOUSTON — It will most definitely help to have all of James Harden’s offensive talent and scoring potential in the lineup. It will also help to have a 23-year-old who already has 44 games of playoff experience anchoring a lineup that is greener than the supermarket produce aisle.
However, where the newest member of the Rockets could pay off the most down the road is by attracting more new Rockets. That’s likely the greatest hope of general manager Daryl Morey after pulling off the trade with Oklahoma City.
“People around the league say, ‘I want to play with that guy,’ ” said Morey as he introduced Harden before a throng of happy fans in the lobby of the Toyota Center. “The way Omer (Asik) is playing and passing the ball, people want to be with him. Jeremy (Lin). Really putting together a young core that will make others say ‘I want to play there.’ ”
For the Rockets to shake off the yoke of mediocrity and climb back to the level of perennial playoff contender, Harden’s jump into the Houston backcourt can only be the next step up the ladder. The Rockets need Lin to continue to grow and prove that he is more than a flash in the pan that took Manhattan last February. They need their center, Asik, to blossom into a full-time defensive stopper in the middle. They need Harden, the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the year, to raise his game to the level of an All-Star.
All of which is possible. If it happens, it could open the door for the Rockets to attract more frontline talent from a high-profile free agent. And even after signing Harden to a max contract, they will still have the ability under the salary cap to add another max player.
“We have max salary room moving forward,” Morey said. “It’s there for the right player when the time is right.”
The key was getting a player of Harden’s talent and high profile first.
“You have to have a foundational player,” Morey said. “He is. Simple as that. Now we need to add another player, or have one of our current players develop. You need two All-Stars to win in this league. We’re not there yet. But he changes the whole dynamic.”
Call it the LeBron Effect or the Law of Attraction. Talent always attracts talent. And since the Rockets best-laid plans crumbled under bad knees and broken feet late in the last decade with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have been in an NBA no-man’s land, unable to make the playoffs and unwilling to sink far enough in the standings to latch onto an elite level draft pick to rebuild on.
Now they have Harden, the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft and a guy who might have been the most sought-after free agent in the 2013 crop.
For a Rockets’ organization that once had big name veterans scratching and clawing — Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen — to play in Houston a generation ago, it was tantamount to put a proven headliner in Harden to bolster the roll of the dice they’re taking on Lin. It is why they were willing to give up so much, in terms of players and draft picks to close this deal.
“We were aggressive,” said Morey with a nod of his head. “We gave up a lot. A top player like James really never gets traded, so we jumped at the chance.”
To get a dynamic scorer, a potential All-Star, but mostly a marquee name who could go a long way toward reeling in another.