Houston is not L.A. in many ways, but this may be the biggest difference relevant to hoopheads: Unlike Dwight Howard upon being traded to the Lakers, James Harden is said to be close to signing a long-term, max contract with his new club. Waiting until next summer, when both Howard and Harden would be free agents (although the Beard would be restricted), has its appeal for Howard because he can earn much more money that way. The Rockets can give Harden a deal right now that’s very lucrative, maybe moreso than any other offer out there this summer would be. Because under the new CBA Houston hasn’t designated a player for its max contract title, Harden can be given a five-year contract just shy of $80 million under that provision. This should give Houston a chance to exhale. The entire organization has been in a fugue state since the season ended just outside of the Western Conference’s top eight but for once this team seems like it has a direction instead of flying everywhere, with GM Daryl Morey trying to hit every target, like buckshot. Harden’s already gotten a nice reception in H-Town, and now he could be staying there a long time if he signs the deal. … One guy not concerned about his move from sixth man to starter is coach Kevin McHale, who did the same thing in the ’80s, just without the trade. According to the Houston Chronicle, McHale noted the timing of when Harden would come off the bench and how he usually stayed on the floor late in games meaning he was “essentially a starter” just with a sub’s title. … The mystique of Harden came from how he could enter a game and take over like he’s a starter once Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant stepped off to rest. Despite his struggles as the go-to guy during this preseason, Harden’s stats blew up whenever he had opportunities on his own in OKC. He needed his space. Once the big dogs had to eat, too, his game fell off dramatically lower than his averages, and conversely spiked higher when one or both weren’t playing. That won’t be the case in Houston without a star running next to him, so what will his ceiling be? We’ve seen some people predict he’ll compete with KD for the scoring title and, yeah, that’s very optimistic. Whereas he once played in a system where he wasn’t getting top billing but was alongside an incredible supporting cast, he now has the marquee spot but with little around him. Is that freedom a good thing for his game? Answering that will be another huge storyline to watch this season. Do we have to wait till Tuesday? … Almost passed by in the Harden news was that Eric Maynor and the Thunder have agreed to break off contract talks until July, when he’ll be a restricted free agent, The Oklahoman reported. On the upside, he could play well by winning Westbrook’s backup job, maybe steal minutes at the two, and then get a nice deal in the summer. On the downside, that deal probably won’t come with OKC. Are there any Thunder fans out there who selfishly secretly hope he loses that backup job to Reggie Jackson and enters July with even less leverage than he has now (coming off season-ending knee surgery last January)? … Hit the jump to read about another intriguing contract negotiation. …
Ty Lawson is arguably a top-eight point guard in the NBA, but he’s not a top-eight earner on his own team. He wants to change that but talks between the Nuggets and Lawson have apparently stalled, according to reports. That breakdown is affecting the Nuggets on the court, head coach George Karl said Sunday, calling it a “distraction.” Lawson has reportedly been offered a deal in the neighborhood of four years and $45 million, and this summer he told us that negotiations had gone very well without any animosity. This is a deal that has to get done for Denver, because Lawson will only get better and his price could go up as a restricted free agent come July. … A big loss has already hit Big Ten stalwart Wisconsin, and games haven’t even started yet. The Badgers’ point guard, Josh Gasser, tore up his ACL during practice and that means not only will Wisky go into the season wishing it had Jordan Taylor still, but wishing it had his backup, the most veteran guard on the whole squad. Gasser wasn’t predicted to be a preseason All-American but he’d run Bo Ryan‘s offense for two seasons in spurts and was at least a steady, capable hand. Ryan’s teams are so methodical (many might call it boring) they need a point who can feel the pace and know when it needs to speed up or go into tortoise mode. … Sticking to college, we read that one of the “secret” scrimmages held this weekend featured Larry Brown‘s SMU team. It still seems crazy he’s coaching in Conference USA. Does he ever run out of energy or wanderlust? … It’s cool that Martell Webster forgot his keys halfway across the nation and had to sleep in his car for a couple hours. But then to play it off by saying, “If you haven’t slept in your car, then you’re weird” is pretty weird, in and of itself. We have to assume he means outside of general napping on road trips, which everyone has done … We’re out like the Tigers.
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