James Harden has three years remaining on his four-year, $117 million contract—with an opt out for the 2020 season—but the Houston Rockets are already trying to give him another extension.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets plan to offer Harden a contract well before he hits free agency as a sign to potential free agent stats that Harden will be locked in for several years.
A person close to the team told the Houston Chronicle that the Rockets “plan to extend James Harden at the first opportunity.”
Harden was voted unanimously to the All NBA first-team, which makes him eligible for the new Designated Player Veteran Exception from the last collective bargaining agreement. This means Harden’s next contract can be worth 35 percent of the salary cap, so the Rockets could offer Harden a four-year, $168 million extension.
The deal could be worth more depending on how much the salary cap increases, but that deal would make Harden the highest paid player in NBA history at $42 million per season.
By signing Harden to another long term deal, Houston general manager Daryl Morey can then go after top free agents and talk them into staying long term.
The Rockets are expected to have a meeting with free agent point guard Chris Paul, and they could be in the mix to trade for Indiana Pacers forward Paul George.
Acquiring George is risky since he will be a free agent after the 2018 season and he has indicated he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Rockets don’t have a first round pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, and they also don’t have the salary cap to add another max-level player. So if they plan to acquire either Chris Paul or Paul George, they would have to move several players on the current roster that helped them win 55 games in 2016.
Trevor Ariza and Lou Williams have expiring contracts after the 2017 season, so they should be easier to move. But Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon might be more difficult to trade considering they have longer deals and injury concerns.
Harden is one of the top players in the league, and he is a finalist for MVP along with Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. Securing him to a longer contract might not allow Houston to make a move for a star player this offseason, but it would give them an opportunity to do so in the 2018 offseason.
(h/t Houston Chronicle)