HOUSTON (AP) James Harden wants to leave his mark in Houston and bring the Rockets their first championship since they won back-to-back titles in 1994-95.
Now the star will have at least four more seasons to try and do just that.
“That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to lock in for these next four years, so I could focus on my legacy and focus on winning and doing unbelievable things here that haven’t been done in a long time,” Harden said.
Harden signed a four-year, $118 million contract extension with the Rockets on Saturday. He was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season. The new deal takes the place of the last two years of his previous contract and will keep him in Houston until 2020.
He said the decision to extend his time in Houston was an easy one.
“You just feel it,” he said. “Sometimes you just get that feeling where everything feels comfortable, you feel loved, you feel like people want you to be here and that feeling outweighs anything. So the ultimate decision was to stay and get it done.”
The move comes after a frustrating season for the Rockets, who were ousted by Golden State in the first round of the playoffs after reaching the Western Conference finals a year ago in a season when Harden came in second in MVP voting. They fired Kevin McHale after a 4-7 start and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff went 37-34 after his dismissal.
Team owner Leslie Alexander beamed as he sat next to the bearded star and announced the big move.
“I don’t think people appreciate how great he is,” Alexander said, “but we certainly do.”
Also on Saturday, the Rockets introduced new free agent signings Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.
Harden has morphed from a role player into one of the league’s elites since joining the Rockets in a trade with Oklahoma City in 2012. He’s made the All-Star game and taken the Rockets to the playoffs in each of his four seasons in Houston, and was voted to the All-NBA team three times.
The Rockets are looking for a fresh start this year under new coach Mike D’Antoni and without center Dwight Howard, who recently left Houston to sign with the Hawks.
“Dwight made his decision in free agency,” general manager Daryl Morey said. “Now we’re building a new core with James here for a long time and all these guys signed for a long time. Everyone can just focus on basketball and everyone can focus on winning.”
Harden finished last season averaging career highs in points (29), rebounds (6.1) and assists (7.5).
“Last year wasn’t a great year for me. But that won’t happen again,” he said. “That’s one thing about being great. You don’t make the same mistakes twice.”
He has slowly grown to embrace his role as the face and backbone of this team over the last four seasons, and believes the trials of last year will end up helping him in the future.
“Leaders aren’t built when things are going extremely well,” Harden said. “So I had to learn from it. How can I be better individually and grasp my team and bring us a lot closer? I learned from last year and I think that’s why I’m more excited about this year because I’ve learned so much, and I’m able to go in with an open mind … and learn how to bring guys with me.”
This year he’ll do it with Anderson and Gordon, two players Morey has long coveted but wasn’t able to snag.
Anderson, who spent the past four seasons with New Orleans, is a top 3-point shooter and averaged 17 points and six rebounds last season. A first-round pick of the Nets in 2008, Anderson spent his rookie season there before he was traded to Orlando. He played three seasons with the Magic, his breakout coming in 2011-12 when he was selected as the NBA’s most improved player after leading the league with 166 3-pointers.
“This has been a long time coming for me,” Anderson said. “Houston has been on my mind for a lot of years.”
Gordon has been plagued by injuries, but has proven to be a dangerous shooter when healthy. The seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft, Gordon has averaged at least 15 points in seven of his eight NBA seasons, highlighted by a career-best 22.3 points a game for the Clippers in 2010-11.
The move reunites Anderson and Gordon after the pair spent four years playing together in New Orleans.