James Harden goes from sixth man to leading role with Rockets

November 1, 2012

James Harden flourished in his role with Oklahoma City last season, providing an instant spark off the bench and earning the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.


Bearded wonder. (Duane Burleson / AP)

Now that Harden is a member of the revamped Houston Rockets, that role has shifted from supporting actor to co-starring role. With the ink still drying on his fat new contract, Harden delivered a smashing debut in Houston’s season-opening 105-96 win against Detroit on Wednesday night.

“I think I just wanted to get out there and play,” Harden said. “All the talking and all the craziness that has been happening this last week — I just wanted to go out there and play basketball.”

Harden did just that, piling up 37 points and 12 assists to pull the Rockets out of an 11-point hole at the start of the fourth quarter and lead them to the come-from-behind win.

The Rockets will rely on Harden to provide consistent offensive production on a team loaded with new, young faces. Jeremy Lin, who will bear a similar burden after signing a lucrative free-agent contract, had 12 points and eight assists and center Omer Asik added 12 points and nine rebounds.

Houston completed its blockbuster deal for the 23-year-old Harden late Saturday night, and showed its long-term commitment to him with a five-year, $80 million contract extension on Wednesday. The trade capped a busy offseason in which the Rockets traded or waived every veteran on their roster.

“We have him for this year and five more, so six years,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “Our goal is to do a good enough job as a staff that we win, make the playoffs, develop the young guys and that we never, ever, ever come to camp again with 13 new guys.”

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