Updated: November 29, 2012, 1:45 AM ET

Around The Association

Life After James Harden In OKC

By Brian Windhorst

James Harden and his beard will make their return to Oklahoma City on Wednesday, his only scheduled visit there with the Houston Rockets this season. The Thunder's famous fans are expected to give him a rousing ovation, and there may even be a few of those old tribute beards dotting the stands.

But while honoring the past, there should be something noted about the present: The kids are all right.

There was widespread belief the Thunder's controversial preseason Harden trade would deal a blow to their chances of returning to the Finals. The final answer on that will not be firm until later, of course. But by the numbers and within the locker room, it's hard to notice they have missed a beat, even though they have a different look and a slightly different style of play in the early going. In fact, in several regards they are performing at a higher level than they did last season. After a sluggish 1-2 start, Oklahoma City has won 10 of 12 and is not showing it's missing its former Sixth Man of the Year.

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Now Starring: James Harden

By Justin Verrier

The ascent took time. Before the league honors and the co-starring roles next to Kate Upton, before the mounds and mounds of free throws and, yes, even before that wonderful facial hair, there was baby fat to be shed, a lazy streak to lose, a tentativeness to curb.

The talent was there; that discovery came before the ability to dunk. But James Harden's rise from an asthmatic high school unknown to off-the-bench wunderkind on one of the biggest forces in American sports was a process. Each step of the way, an adjustment period was needed.

But his transformation from a future superstar budding behind the wattage of his already fully established teammates in Oklahoma City to the anointed superstar running his own show in Houston took no time at all. In fact, it came down to less than an hour.

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