With James Harden's extension, Houston has hope of being an NBA hotbed

HOUSTON -- There will be no free-agency tours for James Harden, at least not for the next four seasons. No worrying about whether or not Harden wants to play in downtown Los Angeles for his hometown team, the Lakers.

No need to worry about Harden thinking about playing in Oklahoma City, where he spent his first three seasons in the NBA.

James Harden, the Houston Rockets' shooting guard, did something opposite of what other superstar players have done in recent years.

He stayed put.

Kevin Durant left. LeBron James left, then came back. Dwight Howard brokered a trade, then left, and left again.

Harden is staying.

The 26-year-old, who had two years remaining on his original deal, signed a two-year extension, which runs through the 2019-20 season.

This coming off a 41-41 season. This coming off a year when the salary cap is jumping and jumping and jumping.

Harden is calling Houston home. He wants to set his legacy in the place where "The Dream" made his mark and where Clyde came to get a ring and Yao pushed the Rockets to international appeal, and, of course, there’s Murph.

Harden believes in the Rockets, and he doesn’t care if anyone else does. He loves the fact that people are underestimating his team.

While the discussions this offseason are about stopping Durant and the Golden State Warriors, Harden noted there’s “only one basketball” to go around. The man who signed off on Harden getting his $118.1 million extension, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, said of the Warriors, “They have to defend us, too.”

Yes, Harden is the main person to defend, and he added to his duties by acting like a de facto GM, helping the front office recruit and sign Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.

Chemistry, a sensitive word with sports teams when things go awry, was mentioned quite a bit Saturday afternoon.

Anderson and Gordon are good friends, having spent three seasons together in New Orleans. After Anderson agreed to terms with the Rockets last week, the first person he called was Gordon. And when Gordon was telling Alexander he wanted to sign with the Rockets, GM Daryl Morey was still pitching and selling to Gordon. Alexander halted Morey and told him to slow it down; Gordon is coming.

But it all starts with Harden, the leading scorer who took so much heat after what he called a disappointing season. His defensive abilities were questioned, something Alexander defended, stopping Harden in midsentence when he was talking about it. Alexander said it was almost unfair to Harden because he was playing nearly 40 minutes a night. He was “everything” for the Rockets, Alexander said.

The reality is Harden can play much better on defense regardless if the ball goes in the hoop or not. And he will, especially with him turning into the face of the franchise.

Harden did some good on Saturday by staying. He keeps the team relevant with his superstar stature and he also displayed a sense of loyalty. No need for the Rockets to head to the Hamptons for visits with free agents.

“It’s just that feeling where everything feels comfortable,” Harden said. “You felt loved and people want you to be here, and that feeling right there outweighs anything.”