James Harden is only 23 years old, he’s already won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, he’s been to the NBA Finals and he just won an Olympic gold medal. Harden is a superstar in the making, I’m sure we all know that. The Thunder has until October 31st to hash out an extension with James Harden otherwise he becomes a restricted free agent this upcoming summer.
Harden has gone on record to say that he loves Oklahoma City and he would love nothing more than to stay, but the best move for him as a young player right now is for him to go to a new team. Harden is one of the most talented players in the league and if he stays in Oklahoma City he’ll forever be in the shadow of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
When Joe Johnson left the Suns back during the 2004-05 season, Johnson knew he was leaving behind a chance to win a championship, he knew he was going from one of the best teams in the league to one of the worst but he left anyway so that he could build his own legacy as a basketball player rather than living in the shadows of his teammates. Unfortunately that didn’t work out too well for him but Harden is a better player now than Joe Johnson was back then. In fact Johnson never posted a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of over 20 whereas Harden posted a PER of 21.13 this past season.
Harden has been linked with the Suns for some time now and oddly the Suns’ future is almost in his hands. Assuming Harden does end up with the Suns, here’s how he’ll benefit. Let’s start with the Suns’ training staff, the best training staff in the NBA. They will keep Harden healthy and limit his number of missed games. He will have a bigger role. Harden will be the sixth man in Oklahoma City as long as Durant and Westbrook are there but once he steps in Phoenix he’s looking at 36 minutes a night and instead of being the sixth man he’s going to be “THE MAN”.
Harden may be complacent with his role as the Thunder’s sixth man but if he’s smart he’ll gamble on his own talent to set out and build his own legacy. It would be easy for Harden to stay in Oklahoma City and go on title runs year after year but it would be a shame if he lets his talent rot on the bench even if it’s with the Thunder.
It’s unfortunate but sixth man aren’t often as remembered or appreciated as much as the cover guys despite their effort. When people think of the Michael Jordan’s Bulls do they recall Toni Kukoc who was the 3rd leading scorer and sixth man of that team? How about the Showtime Lakers of the 80′s? People always talk about Magic, Kareem and Worthy but what about Mychal Thompson? Or even the 2008-2010 Lakers teams that won two titles, will people still talk about how valuable Lamar Odom was to that Lakers team ten years from now?
Bottom line, Harden is destined to become a great player in the NBA whether or not he will go down as one of the greatest will be completely up to him. He certainly has the talent to be the cornerstone of a franchise and he certainly has the potential to become as big of a star as a guy like Dwayne Wade. I believe that James Harden has the talent and potential to lead a team to contention in the future but he’s never going to get a chance to show that if he stays in Oklahoma City.