HOUSTON — James Harden plans to sign a long-term extension with the Houston Rockets before the regular season begins.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year joined his new team Sunday after he was traded to the Rockets from Oklahoma City late Saturday. The Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick in the surprising deal. Oklahoma City also sent center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston.
“It happened so fast, it happened very fast,” Harden said. “But this is the position I’m in in now. Just have to make the best out of it. I’m with Houston now. I just have to come in here and play hard and win games.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said Houston was able to offer Harden a contract that Oklahoma City could not.
“Quite honestly, the value of the trade was greater based on the fact that the Rockets could offer him the contract that he was seeking,” Presti said. “By doing it when we did it, it allowed the Rockets to secure — or I believe it will allow the Rockets to secure him and James will get the contract that he was seeking. And because of that, we were able to capitalize on the trade and probably get a little bit more than we would have if we would have waited.”
The Rockets nabbed Harden on the night before holding a public practice at the Toyota Center. An hour before the practice started, fans peered into the shaded, street-level glass windows to catch a glimpse of the new arrival on the Rockets’ practice court.
The 23-year-old Harden says he’ll have to adjust to a rebuilding team after playing for a contender in Oklahoma City.
The acquisition of Harden completes an offseason overhaul for the Rockets, who’ve missed the playoffs the last three seasons. Houston cut or traded every veteran player, including point guard Kyle Lowry, backup Goran Dragic, shooting guard Courtney Lee and popular forward Luis Scola.
The Thunder, meanwhile, are one of the favorites to win the Western Conference after losing to Miami in last year’s finals.
“This is definitely different,” Harden said. “But it’s something that we have to learn to deal with. This is a business and everything happens for a reason. I’m going to just to play hard, try to play hard and do whatever it takes to win.”
Harden was a first-round pick by Oklahoma City out of Arizona State in 2009. He started only seven games in three seasons, but he became an indispensable reserve. Last year, he averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the regular season.
“I like the way he plays,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “He’s got a pace to his game that I like, I think he plays at a speed where he can repeat things over and over again. He’s not playing at a warp speed. He really takes his time, and goes when he wants to go, starts, stops. He’s a really sophisticated player.”
Harden struggled in the NBA finals, shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from 3-point range. He scored 19 points with five assists in Game 5, a 121-106 Miami victory that clinched the championship.
He’ll also have to adjust to a starting role in Houston, joining Jeremy Lin in the backcourt.
“He’s always been an efficient, easy player to play with,” Lin said. “The way he plays, the style he plays is very in tune with what we’re trying to do.”
McHale thinks Harden can make a seamless switch to a starting role.
“I don’t think he’ll need any adjusting,” McHale said. “I don’t think that’ll be an issue at all. He’s just going to get an opportunity to get more time and start the game.”
Harden and his new teammates arrived at the Toyota Center in a limousine just moments after Martin drove away.
Martin has averaged 18.4 points and 2.1 assists in eight NBA seasons, most of them with Sacramento. He played 2½ seasons in Houston and averaged 23.5 points in 2010-11 under coach Rick Adelman. The Rockets and Adelman parted ways after that season, and Martin’s numbers dipped in McHale’s first season.
He was in the final year of his contract and is due to make about $13 million this season.
The 6-foot-2 Lamb was the 12th overall pick in the draft. Lamb helped Connecticut win the 2011 Final Four and led the Rockets’ summer-league team in scoring, averaging 20 points.
Lin said he was “pretty excited” about the deal, although he said it doesn’t change the team’s expectations.
“The way we’re looking at it is we want to make the playoffs, whether the trade happened or not,” he said. “We’re still looking at the same exact focus, the same exact goal.”
If nothing else, the arrival of Harden will deflect some of the attention away from Lin, on the court and off it.
“We’ll see how everything plays out,” Lin said. “It’ll be dispersed a little more.”